#GlobalJustice Weekly / Philippines’ submits formal ICC withdrawal notice | Colombia’s justice tribunal begins | In search of justice for Syrian atrocities

Colombian President Santos receives the list of 51 judges of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace © presidencia.gov.co
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The Philippines’ submits ICC withdrawal notice to UN

The United Nations treaty Office has confirmed receipt of The Philippines’ formal notification of withdrawal from the Rome Statute. The withdrawal will become effective 1 year after the notification for withdrawal. 

“The current move of President Duterte to withdraw from the ICC goes against the aspirations of the Filipino people for justice and accountability. It goes against addressing impunity for the most atrocious crimes. The Filipino people’s hopes and dreams for holding human rights violators accountable should not be doused by a single man’s fear of accountability”, said Atty. Ray Paolo J. Santiago, PCICC Chairperson.

In a statement, the ICC expressed regret over the decision and encouraged the Philippines to remain part of the ICC family. "The Court wishes to reaffirm that the participation of States in the Rome Statute and their continued support for the ICC in the discharge of its independent and impartial mandate is essential to global efforts to ensure accountability and strengthen the international rule of law."

The Court also stressed that the preliminary examination of The Philippines is not an investigation and that national jurisdictions have the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute those responsible for international crimes.

The Court also noted that the withdrawal will have very little effect on the on-going proceedings, or any other matter that is under consideration prior to the date on which the withdrawal becomes effective.

The Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision authorising the opening of an investigation against Burundi was cited as authority for the ICC’s retention of jurisdiction over crimes committed during the time in which the State was party to the Statute, including "jurisdiction over these crimes even after the withdrawal becomes effective.”

"I regret this development. A State Party withdrawing from the Rome Statute would negatively impact our collective efforts towards fighting impunity", said Assembly of States Parties President O-Gon Kwon of South Korea. "The ICC needs the strong support of the international community to ensure its effectiveness. I encourage the Philippines to remain as a party to the Rome Statute."

President Kwon recalled that the Philippines has participated actively in the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute since becoming a State Party in 2011, and as recently as December 2017 had publicly reaffirmed its support for the principles of the Rome Statute and the Court.

"All States Parties have the opportunity to voice their concerns before the Assembly, and I call on the authorities of the Philippines to engage in dialogue in this regard", President Kwon stated.

"Whilst all the attention focuses on the most powerful and the supposed ills befalling him, the voices of the many victims who look to the ICC for justice are lost," said Matthew Cannock, head of office, Amnesty International Centre for International Justice, The Hague. "The Philippines’ withdrawal should be futile. The OTP must continue in its preliminary examination despite the withdrawal and the victims of crimes under international law in the Philippines – their voices temporarily drowned out by headline-grabbing anti-ICC bluster – should still look to the ICC for truth, justice and reparations, and their stories must be heard."

A preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines was announced by the OTP on 8 February 2018. It will analyse crimes alleged Rome Statute committed in the state, from 1 July 2016, in the context of extra-judicial killings during the “war on drugs” campaign launched by the Philippines government.

 

Colombia’s justice tribunal begins work

Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace tribunal (JEP) will begin the collection of evidence and preparation of first hearings in relation to the five-decade war in Colombia. The tribunal was set up under a 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels.

As per the peace deal, the tribunal will try cases considered ‘most representative of the war’s violence’. Leaders of the FARC will be required to submit evidence of their involvement in killings, sexual violence, kidnappings, bombings and other crimes. If found guilty, they will be sentenced to a maximum of five to eight years of restorative work. So far nearly 4,600 FARC fighters and 1,800 members of Colombia’s armed forces have submitted testimony to the JEP.

Despite initiation of the JEP, the Colombian government has been criticised for failing to properly implement the peace plan. An OHCHR report accused the military of involvement in drug trafficking and illegal gold mining. It also pointed to the killings of human rights defenders and social workers because of the government’s failure to implement the peace plan; OHCHR registered 441 attacks and 221 killings of human rights defenders in 2017.

The Colombian government has also been criticised of failing to prosecute generals in the armed forces who are accused of killing civilians under the guise of combatting guerrilla forces, cases known as 'false positives'. Approximately 4,200 civilians were allegedly executed by the military to inflate statistics. The situation of the 'false positives' is among the issues being closely followed by the OTP in its Preliminary Examinations.  

 

In search of justice Syrian atrocities

The International Federation for Human Rights and the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression launched the webpageSyria, in search of justice, to mark the 7th anniversary of the devastating war in Syria. FIDH and SCM, in solidarity with Syrian victims, aims to bring to light the atrocities committed by all sides in the conflict.

The page highlights the work of FIDH in combating impunity by working on prosecutions in the domestic courts of Germany, France, Sweden and Spain.

According to the FIDH, “Crimes committed – whether by the regime and its allies (notably, Russia), the Syrian opposition, the so-called Islamic State (IS) or the international coalition set up to defeat IS – remain unpunished. Faced with the impossibility of obtaining real justice in Syria and the political impasse that blocks access to the International Criminal Court, as things stand the only hope for Syrians in search of justice and redress are prosecutions before national justice systems in third countries.”

The FIDH and SCM are currently engaged in four ongoing cases in France againstindividuals allegedly responsible for atrocities in Syria: the Dabbagh case, the Ceasar investigation, the Baba Amr case and the Qosmos case.

FIDH and SCM are also advocating for the accountability of crimes committed in Syria during the upcoming peace talks that will be held in Geneva on 23 March 2018. FIDH President, Dimitris Christopoulos, said about the talks, “Ending impunity for crimes committed in Syria needs to be at the heart of the resolution of the conflict. Any suggestion that perpetrators – from any side to the conflict – should be given immunity has to be firmly rejected.”

Meanwhile, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has reported widespread sexual and gender based crimes by all sides of the conflict. The report found that rapes and sexual violence were committed, mainly by government and pro-government militias, amounting to crimes against humanity. Atrocities by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, including stoning of women, execution of sexual minorities and forced marriages, were also reported and labelled as war crimes.

 

ICC investigations

Central African Republic: The International Centre for Transnational Justice has released a report on the voluntary non-repatriation of CAR Muslim and Peuhl refugees from Cameroon and Chad. The report, shows that a major cause of instability in the country is widespread racial, ethnic and religious discrimination.

Burundi: Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza has set May 17th 2018 as the date for a referendum to extend the presidential term from five to seven years. Nkurunziza’s current term – his third in office – expires in 2020. The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi has alleged that officials have been harassing and threatening those opposed to the constitutional amendments.

Georgia: Abkhazia and South Ossetia residents holding Russian citizenship voted in the Russian Presidential elections this week. Moscow-backed leaders in the region had campaigned for the re-election of President Putin. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Georgia condemned the presidential polls, labelling them as, “a clear demonstration of the ongoing occupation”, and, “yet another step towards…factual annexation by the Russian Federation.”

 

ICC preliminary examinations

Palestine: The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Occupied Territory has criticised Israel for violating its obligations under international law to ensure the health and welfare of the Palestinian population. The Special Rapporteur drew attention to the confiscation of private and public lands, pillaging and the denial of exit permits to those in need of medical care, stating that these measures have had a harmful impact on both the physical and mental health of Palestinians.

Ukraine: Workers at a water filtration plant in Donetsk have been shot at on four separate occasions over the last week.The UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine expressed concern over the incidents, urging parties to the conflict to avoid violating international humanitarian law by targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Venezuela: Human Rights Watch condemned the persecution and censorship faced by journalists in Venezuela. Expanding on growing regulation of the media, a new law approves prison sentences of up to 20 years for encouragement, promotion and incitement of ‘hatred’. News and media outlets providing a counter-narrative to the government are reportedly to be shut down.

 

Campaign for global justice / Rome Statute 20

Americas: Coalition Americas Regional Coordinator Michelle Reyes Milk addressed the Organisation of American States focused on strengthening cooperation with the ICC, where Mexico and Ecuador both announced special initiatives planned for Rome Statute 20. 

Indonesia: A member of the Indonesian Civil Society Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Agantaranansa Juanda, expressed his views on the need for Indonesia to accede to the Rome Statute of the ICC. Lamenting the Indonesian government’s lack of progress on prosecuting past gross violations of human rights, and the need for reform of the Indonesian Human Rights Court, Juanda argues the need for ratification of the Rome Statute to ensure justice for victims of atrocities in the country.

ECOWAS delegation visit ICC: An ECOWAS delegation visited the ICC during visit to The Hague. The delegation was on a study group mission to better understand regional capacity building through negotiation and mediation as instruments for conflict resolution.

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh: The UN High Commission for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration have launched an appeal for nearly USD 1 billion to meet the urgent needs of Rohingya refugees and their host communities in Bangladesh. Proceeds from the appeal, which is part of a Joint Response Plan, will meet the needs of nearly 900,000 Rohingyas and 330,000 vulnerable Bangladeshis, by providing them with food, water and sanitation, shelter and other basic aid.

 

Around the world

Turkey/Syria/Iraq: Turkish President Tayyab Erdogan has said that Turkish forces will extend their campaign against Kurdish YPG forces along the length of the Turkish/Syrian border, and possibly into Iraq. Referring to a stretch of Kurdish controlled towns in northern-Syria as a “terror corridor”, Erdogan said, “…we will continue now to Manbij, Ayn al-Arab, Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ain and Qamishli until this corridor is fully removed.”

South Sudan: UN Security Council has renewed the mandate of UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan by a unanimous vote. It decided to maintain the troop-levels for UNMISS at 17,000 troops. The resolution also demanded that parties to the conflict abide by the ceasefire agreements of 11 July 2016 and 22 May 2017.