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Father Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.

Toothless ICC hits dead end over Philippine war on drugs

Toothless ICC hits dead end over Philippine war on drugs

Police gathered over the body of a suspect killed during an anti-drug operation at an informal settlers' area in Manila on Nov. 16, 2016. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will not cooperate with the International Criminal Court's probe into the drug war, insisting the tribunal does not have jurisdiction in the country. (Photo: AFP)

Published: January 19, 2022 10:15 AM GMT
The court has a less than stellar record of convicting those guilty of committing crimes against humanity

In one of its recent singular success stories, the International Criminal Court (ICC) brought about the arrest, trial and sentencing of Bosco Ntaganda. He was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of crimes against humanity for killing numerous people, committing war crimes and sexually abusing countless women and children in his sex slavery ring.

Bosco Ntaganda was a warlord in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Nov. 7, 2019. He was convicted of committing murders individually and on a large scale. The ICC does not have a brilliant record of success despite having a huge staff of lawyers, investigators, researchers and a massive budget to pay them and to support witnesses.

The court has indicted 44 individuals and 45 cases are presently being tried by the ICC. Out of the 45 cases, only 14 have had complete proceedings. In the 21 years since its first case, the ICC has secured only nine convictions.

The ICC was established in July 1998 at a conference held in Rome by the United Nations where more than 60 nations ratified the ICC in an international treaty known as the Rome Statute. The intention and goal of the court was to end impunity by individuals and groups responsible for mass killings, atrocities, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It grew out of the first international trials at Nuremberg, Germany, held after World War II to try Nazi leaders who murdered millions of people including the genocide of the Jews and other groups.

Then, it was said that such terrible crimes would never be allowed to happen again in a civilized world where the dignity and rights of the human person would be protected. “Never again!” was the rallying cry to end war crimes and genocide. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights then followed.

The world community did not fully civilize. Many nations did not respect human rights and dignity. They did not end oppression and crimes against humanity. Human nature, driven by greed and lust for power, brought leaders and their cronies to power backed by corrupt businesspeople. These leaders have continued to kill and oppress their own people.

Who in the Philippines in their right mind is going to help bring President Rodrigo Duterte to the ICC and enforce an international arrest warrant? None for sure

The ICC was established to bring them to justice as a deterrent and prevent more war crimes and mass killing and atrocities. But it has failed miserably in that regard because it is a ponderous body with too few convictions. The killings still go on as we can see in Ethiopia, Yemen, the DRC, Syria, Belarus, Myanmar, Mali, Nigeria and, allegedly, the Philippines.

Last year the ICC declared that the “specific legal element of the crime against humanity of murder" had been met in the drugs crackdown that has killed thousands in the Philippines. It also said that the war on drugs cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation, and the killings neither as legitimate nor as mere excesses in an otherwise legitimate operation.

How can ICC investigators prove that it was not a legitimate campaign to eliminate the evil drug trade operated by criminal gangs and drug traffickers at the highest level of society? Anyway, the ICC has no power to enforce its mandate to investigate such crimes if the Philippine government does not cooperate. The ICC has to have state cooperation or it has no jurisdiction.

Who in the Philippines in their right mind is going to help bring President Rodrigo Duterte to the ICC and enforce an international arrest warrant? None for sure. Besides, the ICC is only a secondary court and a Philippine court is the first court of recourse for any complaint or group of complaints. It is only when the national government is unable or unwilling to prosecute can the ICC step in.

This limited jurisdiction is a weakness of the ICC. No official would dare allow any suspect wanted by the ICC to be extradited. They would greet an early grave for sure. Besides, the president is not even mentioned in the request filed by the former ICC lead prosecutor Fatou Bensouda when she said that “state actors, primarily members of the Philippine security forces, killed thousands of suspected drug users and other civilians during official law enforcement operations.”

The president says he was defending the people from the ravages of the drug culture and had no part in the alleged killing of 8,600 suspects in what he called shootouts or fightback

So, what do we have here — only maverick, rogue police officers going on a killing spree and a rampage? How can the ICC prove they were ordered to do it from the top? The president says he was defending the people from the ravages of the drug culture and had no part in the alleged killing of 8,600 suspects in what he called shootouts or fightback. He clearly said that the police operations were “lawfully directed against drug lords and pushers who have for many years destroyed the present generation, especially the youth.” 

In 2017, the Philippine police likely exaggerated the 16,600 deaths. That is how many homicides were under investigation, it said. It was evidence of their operational success. How could most of those be validated by the ICC or attributed to the president? Impossible.

When human rights organizations are claiming that as many as 27,000 to 30,000 people were killed in police operations, there is little chance that the ICC could prove they were connected to the president. Anyway, ICC representatives are forbidden to enter the Philippines to conduct investigations. The number of those allegedly murdered could be a gross exaggeration and the ICC could not possibly verify such figures and killings. Not even the Philippine Department of Justice could investigate a fraction of such homicides.

Besides, why should the president submit to the ICC? According to his spokesperson, “he would rather die than submit to a foreign tribunal.” The president also declared he has nothing to answer for, what he did was to defend his country. His words last July during his State of the Nation speech were truly defiant: “I have never denied [it], and the ICC can record it: Those who destroy my country — I will kill you,” he said. The death toll keeps climbing and President Duterte, true to his word, is fighting on.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia