MANILA -- United Nations high commissioner for human rights Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein’s remark against President Rodrigo Duterte was among the reasons the Chief Executive decided to withdraw the Philippines from a treaty that created the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to a Malacañang official.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Zeid’s statement that Duterte should see a psychiatrist “convinced” the President “that there must be some kind of a conspiracy on the part of pressure groups and U.N. officials to shame him.”
The ICC and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights are two separate bodies.
Duterte, in a statement on Wednesday, announced his administration's decision to withdraw the country’s ratification of the Rome Statute, a 1998 United Nations treaty that created the ICC.
Duterte said the ICC’s “politicized” nature prompted him to withdraw the country from the statute. He also cited the supposed failure of the previous government to publish the treaty in the Official Gazette or newspaper of general circulation as reason why it is “not effective nor enforceable” in the Philippines.
Roque said prior to Zeid’s remark, Duterte had promised he will face the ICC. However, the government felt that some lobby groups have been making strides in their effort to “convict him (Duterte) in the court of public opinion.”
Roque acknowledged the U.N. is a separate entity from the ICC, but he claimed there is perception that the two are “allied” with each other.
He said he had warned, in a speech at the U.N. headquarters in New York last December 2017, that the ICC must not let itself be used for “political agenda” or else the Philippines will be forced to withdraw from the international body.
“He (Duterte) knew I spoke in New York upon his instruction to warn the ICC that politicizing the ICC will result in our decision to leave the court… So it’s just implementing a policy statement that we delivered in the U.N.,” he said.
Roque said he also “squarely” places the blame on ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. He alleged that Bensouda gave in to lobby groups’ request that the ICC act on the charges against Duterte.
“Nandiyan iyong mga human rights organizations and their funders. I’m not begrudging it, karapatan naman ng mga mayayamang sumuporta sa mga lobby groups but alam natin na it’s the same lobby groups who have successfully lobbied the Office of Prosecutor also to proceed at least with preliminary examination,” he claimed.
“Siguro sa isipan ni prosecutor, ‘preliminary examination lang naman.’ Well that’s a fatal mistake. She should have weighed the policy implication of the Philippines’ withdrawing from the ICC from appeasing lobby groups. I put the blame squarely on the prosecutor," Roque said.
DUTERTE NOT AVOIDING ACCOUNTABILITY - ROQUE
Roque said the President was not avoiding accountability by having the Philippines leave the ICC, saying the preliminary examination on a communication filed by Filipino lawyer Jude Sabio in connection to the war on drugs will still push through.
“No, because if it pushes through, the President has not said that he will not participate,” he said.
Roque, however, said progress must be made within a year because the withdrawal of the Philippines’ ratification of the statute will take effect after this period.
“Since there is no preliminary investigation, if there is none conducted within a year, tapos na po, patay na itong kaso na isinampa nung mga pulitiko laban kay Presidente sa ICC,” he said.
Last month, the ICC announced it will begin its “preliminary examination” into the communication filed by Sabio, who accused the President, senior government officials, and several police officers of committing crimes against humanity with the war on drugs. The preliminary examination will determine whether the ICC has jurisdiction over the case.
Nearly 4,000 drug suspects have been killed in legitimate drug operations since Duterte assumed office over a year ago. Human rights groups, however, believe this number is understated as it does not include people who were killed by so-called vigilantes, some of whom were alleged to be state-sponsored.
Duterte, known for his tough language, previously said he was ready to face the ICC and answer all the allegations against him. He even said, albeit in jest, that he was willing to be executed through a firing squad if proven guilty. Later, Duterte said the ICC can never have jurisdiction over him.
ROQUE PUSHED FOR PH RATIFICATION OF ROME STATUTE
Roque, meanwhile, said while he was among the members of civil society to push for the Philippine ratification of the statute, he now agrees with the position of the President.
He claimed that the ICC violated the principle of complementarity which means that the international court should only act on a case if the courts in a particular member-country are not functioning.
“I have no regrets for doing so as I believe that there must be an end to impunity. But when I lobbied for Philippine membership into the ICC, it was because I knew it cannot be a substitute for domestic courts,” he said.
“Yes, it saddens me because our membership to the ICC perhaps is my single most important achievement as a member of civil society, but I agree with the President – hindi naman po pupuwede na isantabi iyong soberenya at saka iyong basehan ng consent to be bound dahil lamang sa gawain ng prosecutor.”
Created in 1998 through the Rome Statute, the ICC has jurisdiction over 124 of its members, including the Philippines.
The Philippines signed the Rome Statute on December 28, 2000 and ratified and endorsed it in August 2011, during the time of Duterte’s predecessor, then President Benigno Aquino III.
The ICC is the first permanent institution having power to exercise jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression, and is seen to help end impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes.