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UNHRC probe: A foreboding for ICC

Jude Josue Sabio .

THE recent UN Human Rights Council resolution to investigate the mass murder in the war on drugs represents a big blow to the “punisher” Duterte. His minions, especially Teddy Boy Locsin whose mouth is as foul as Duterte’s,  earlier beamed with unabashed pride when the Philippines was chosen as a member of the 47-member United Nation’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC).  To them, the Philippines’ membership in the UNHRC is a strong recognition by the international community of its abiding respect for human rights. 

However, little did President Duterte and his minions, including the vitriolic Teddy Locsin, realize that they were in for a stunning, big-time embarrassment.  They thought that UNHRC would just stop after urging the Duterte administration to stop and investigate the killings. But after the urgings just fell on deaf ears, this time, the UNHRC is logically taking a  further bold step: it is seeking to investigate the killings in its own member country. It required UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to submit a comprehensive report during next year’s UNHRC session.

The punisher Duterte is receiving a double whammy. Apart from the UNHRC move for a probe, there is an ongoing preliminary examination in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Duterte and his cohorts because of the bloody war on drugs. This preliminary examination was opened in February 2018 or about one year and five months ago. If it is any indication, the ICC opened an investigation in the situation of Burundi one year and six months from the opening of a preliminary investigation.  Just like the Philippines, Burundi withdrew from the ICC, but this did not stop the ICC from later opening an investigation. The UNHRC resolution will surely have a great impact on the UNHRC which, per my fearless forecast, will soon follow suit by opening an investigation.

The move for a probe of the UNHRC is backed by 18 countries, a number that is clearly telling. Not even China was able to block such move for a probe.   The fact that the probe is directed against a UNHRC member indicates that how strong the international sentiment in the UNHRC is against Duterte’s mass murder in the war on drugs. Diplomacy could have prevented the UNHRC from taking this bold move against President Duterte, but it did not. One easily recalls that previously some countries with gross human rights violations, including Libya, which were members of the UNHRC, were not investigated by the body owing to diplomacy and courtesy.  But in the case of the Philippines, diplomacy even under the dominant present of China which is President Duterte’s close ally failed to stall the probe.   

An investigation by the UNHRC or later the ICC is made relatively easy by last year’s admission of President Duterte that his only sin is EJK, which is a culmination of his several admissions before. These public admissions are a matter of public record and available in the public domain, of which the ICC certainly has judicial notice. Owing to these admissions, the ICC investigation is already a foregone conclusion, which, if formally opened soon, will even be a bigger blow to President Duterte and his cohorts. 

The President is just dodging the legitimate issue. Earlier, out of fear, he withdrew from the ICC instead of facing up to it as an innocent man would do.   His withdrawal is akin to flight which is a strong indication of his guilt. This time, instead of addressing the legitimate issues, President Duterte is attacking Iceland, the country that spearheaded the resolution.

While the UNHRC can only investigate and make reports and recommendations, its action will surely influence and aid the ICC in its ongoing preliminary examination and later investigation. In the same manner that UNHRC saw the urgent need for an investigation, considering  the abject failure, nay refusal, of President Duterte and his administration to undertake an investigation, this national inactivity will surely prompt the ICC to open its own investigation. In the case of Burundi, this same inactivity was utilized by the ICC as a factual and legal basis for the exercise of its complementary jurisdiction.  

While the UNHRC is admittedly not a court or judicial body, the ICC has legal enforcement powers as an international court, which constitutes a bigger blow to President Duterte. Unlike the UNHRC, the ICC can issue an arrest warrant, render a conviction and send a person to jail. Should the ICC open an investigation, it comes at a time when Sudan President al Bashir was recently arrested on the strength of a long-standing ICC arrest warrant after he was toppled amidst street protests and military intervention. This debunks critics of the ICC who claim that ICC arrest warrants cannot be enforced. Who knows, by twist of political fate,  President Duterte will suffer the same fate, as foretold by the bad omen against him.

(Jude Josue Sabio is the lawyer from Misamis Oriental who brought the matter about the killings in the Philippines before the ICC.)


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