International Criminal Court is set to conduct preliminary examination on Philippine and Venezuelan situations

THE chief prosecutor at International Criminal Court on The Hague is set to conduct a preliminary examination of the situations in the Philippine and Venezuela following allegations of state sponsored crimes against humanity.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, in a press and video statement released on Thursday, said that “since 2016, I have closely followed the situations in the Republic of the Philippines and in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” She also noted that “both countries are States Parties to the Rome Statute.”

Bensouda added that “following a careful, independent and impartial review of a number of communications and reports documenting alleged crimes potentially falling within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, I have decided to open a preliminary examination into each situation.”

Bensouda explained that “the preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines will analyze crimes allegedly committed in this State Party since at least 1 July 2016, in the context of the “war on drugs” campaign launched by the Government of the Philippines. Specifically, it has been alleged that since 1 July 2016, thousands of persons have been killed for reasons related to their alleged involvement in illegal drug use or dealing. While some of such killings have reportedly occurred in the context of clashes between or within gangs, it is alleged that many of the reported incidents involved extra-judicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations.”

It will be recalled that last year, lawyer Jude Josue Sabio, counsel of self confessed assassin and member of the so-called “Davao Death Squad” Edgar Matobato, asked the ICC to prosecute President Rodrigo Duterte for murder and crimes against humanity after his client testified before the Senate against the Philippine president and implicated him in the unexplained slaying of political opponents and suspected criminals in southern Philippines when he was still mayor of Davao City.

Edgar Matobato (left) and lawyer Jude Josue Sabio (right)

In a 77-page Philippine communication entitled “The situation of mass murder in the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte: The Mass Murderer” and addressed to ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Sabio accused Pres. Duterte of masterminding a virulent and bloody national anti-drug campaign which “has already resulted into the deaths of not less than 1,400 individuals in Davao City under his Davao Death Squad and not less than 7,000 individuals in his war on drugs at the national level.”

(Read More: http://beyonddeadlines.com/2017/04/25/filing-of-charges-against-ph-president-rodrigo-duterte-before-international-court-is-a-disservice-to-the-country-senator-panfilo-lacson/)

“The situation in the Philippines reveals a terrifying, gruesome and disastrous continuing commission of extrajudicial executions or mass murder from the time President Duterte was the mayor of Davao City,” Sabio, in his complaint, said.

“Crimes against humanity are crimes of universal jurisdiction, but where a state like the Philippines fails to assume such universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity continuously being committed in its very own territory, then the International Criminal Court will have to intervene [in] a situation that is grave by any human standard,” Sabio alleged.

“These mass murders undertaken as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population of the Philippines, disproportionately an attack against the poor or impoverished civilian population, constitute a flagrant, wanton and willful violation of the nonderogable right to life enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international human rights laws,” he said.

“The grim statistics of more than 7,000 drug-related killings cannot be anything but grave, especially if viewed in the context of just seven months since Rodrigo Duterte became the President, compared to only about 3,000 committed during the 20-year Marcos regime. These more than 7,000 drug-related killings translate to roughly 1,000 killings per month,” Sabio insists.

(Read More: http://beyonddeadlines.com/2017/04/26/the-evidence-against-president-rodrigo-duterte-is-substantial-senator-antonio-trillanes-iv/)

PH President Rodrigo Duterte Photo © AP Photo/ Aaron Favila

At that rate and with impunity prevailing, the body count will reach 72,000 if Mr. Duterte completes his six-year term, Sabio claims.

Sabio pleaded that in the interest of international criminal justice and of the thousands of mass murder victims, the ICC should “(1) to conduct a preliminary examination based on this communication and other relevant information from other reliable sources including international human rights groups like the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and (2) later to open a formal investigation with the conformity of the Pre-Trial Chamber, if warranted by the situation based on the standards provided for under the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court.”

Moreover, Sabio said there is sufficient factual and legal basis for the ICC “(1) to confirm with Pre-Trial Chamber the proper criminal charges for crimes against humanity against President Duterte and his senior administration officials; (2) to apply with the Pre-Trial Chamber for the issuance of a Warrant of Arrest against President Duterte and his concerned administration officials for his arrest, surrender and detention pending trial at the Detention Facility at The Hague of the ICC in order to prevent them from continuing with the commission of mass murder and to prevent them from killing potential victims and witnesses, and (3) to pursue with the Pre-Trial Chamber the commitment of President Duterte and his concerned senior administration officials to the Trial Chamber for the appropriate trial, and for a conviction and sentence to a prison term or life imprisonment.”

Sabio’s complaint relied heavily on the accounts of Matobato, confessed DDS leaders Arturo Lascañas and Ernesto Avasola, the reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch; Fr. Amado Picardal’s report titled “The Victims of the Davao Death Squad: Consolidated Report 1998-2015”; and media reports on the war on drugs quoting Mr. Duterte and his officials.
Aside from Pres. Duterte, Sabio asked the ICC to prosecute Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II; the Philippine National Police chief, Director General Ronald dela Rosa; Police Superintendents Edilberto Leonardo and Royina Garma; Speaker of the House of Representatives Pantaleon Alvarez; former Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno; SPO4 Sanson “Sonny” Buenaventura; National Bureau of Investigation Director Dante Gierran; Solicitor General Jose Calida, and Senators Richard Gordon and Alan Peter Cayetano, who are known political allies of Pres. Duterte.

Sabio accused these officials as Pres. Duterte’s accomplices in his alleged murderous campaign and crimes against humanity through either through the omission or commission of certain official acts, and of railroading legislative investigations to clear the president of any wrongdoing.

On the other hand, Bensouda said “the preliminary examination of the situation in Venezuela, will analyze crimes allegedly committed in this State Party since at least April 2017, in the context of demonstrations and related political unrest. In particular, it has been alleged that State security forces frequently used excessive force to disperse and put down demonstrations, and arrested and detained thousands of actual or perceived members of the opposition, a number of whom would have been allegedly subjected to serious abuse and ill-treatment in detention. It has also been reported that some groups of protestors resorted to violent means, resulting in some members of security forces being injured or killed.”

Bensouda, however, clarified that “under the Rome Statute, national jurisdictions have the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute those responsible for international crimes. I emphasize that a preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available in order to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation pursuant to the criteria established by the Rome Statute. Specifically, under article 53(1) of the Rome Statute, I, as Prosecutor, must consider issues of jurisdiction, admissibility and the interests of justice in making this determination.”

At the same time, Bensouda gave assurance that “in conformity with the complementarity principle, which is a cornerstone of the Rome Statute legal system, and within the framework of each preliminary examination, my Office will be engaging with the national authorities concerned with a view to discussing and assessing any relevant investigation and prosecution at the national level.”

She also said that “in the independent and impartial exercise of its mandate, my Office will also give consideration to all submissions and views conveyed to it during the course of each preliminary examination, strictly guided by the requirements of the Rome Statute.”

“There are no statutory timelines on the length of a preliminary examination. Depending on the facts and circumstances of each situation, I will decide whether to initiate an investigation, subject to judicial review as appropriate; continue to collect information to establish a sufficient factual and legal basis to render a determination; or decline to initiate an investigation if there is no reasonable basis to proceed,” she added.

“I reiterate that my Office undertakes this work with full independence and impartiality in accordance with its mandate and the applicable legal instruments of the Court. As we do, we hope to count on the full engagement of the relevant national authorities in the Philippines and Venezuela,” Bensouda reiterated.

The ICC investigates and, where warranted, tries individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

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