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Philippines’ President threatens International Criminal Court’s prosecutor

Fact finding delegation harassed by soldiers in Mindanao, where 110 farmers have reportedly been victims of political killings under martial law.

After withdrawing Philippines from the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute last month, President Rodrigo Duterte has now threatened to arrest ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, if she conducts any activities in the country to investigate the various crimes and human rights violations he is accused of committing in the name of the ‘war on drugs’.

The investigation by the ICC was initiated in February after a Filipino lawyer, Jude Sabio, filed a complaint through a 77-page communication, which alleged that extra-judicial killings had claimed the lives of more than 8,000 (at least 4,000 of whom were killed by the police). If the current rate of killings did not abate, the communication estimated, about 72,000 persons would be killed by the end of his term. Last year, over 30 people were killed in a single night in a single region.

Justifying his threat against the prosecutor, Duterte said that since the country was no longer a signatory to the ICC’s Rome Statute, the prosecutor had no jurisdiction to operate in the country. However, critics said that the crimes he and his security forces are accused of committing could be investigated by the ICC, because the international body had jurisdiction in the country from 2011, which is when the country signed the statute, until 2019, which is when the announced withdrawal would take effect, the Guardian reported.

On the other hand, Duterte’s legal aides are arguing that because Philippines had not announced joining the ICC in its official gazette, the country was never technically a member of the body, and therefore, the ICC could exercise no jurisdiction over the country,. “If there is no publication, it is as if there is no law at all,” Duterte said.

“Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there are three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.. If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have (me),” the President has said unapologetically, promising to continue his ‘war on drugs’, the victims of which have mostly been small-time peddlers and drug-users.

The state security forces, whom Duterte has asked not to cooperate with the investigation, have reportedly harassed the delegates of the International Fact Finding Mission, who arrived in the country earlier this month to investigate the alleged crimes.

“Since their arrival at the airports in Davao City, Lagindinangan and Butuan City.. all the way to highly-militarized peasant and Lumad communities in Southern Mindanao, Northern Mindanao and the Caraga region, members of the three-team mission were subjected to different forms of harassment and intimidation.” Bulatat reported.

“We came here for a very urgent reason. We came here to verify mounting reports of rights abuse against peasant and Lumad communities perpetrated allegedly by military elements. No wonder the military people do not want us here,” said Rafael Mariano, a former Agrarian Reform secretary and the head of the Northern Mindanao team, which was blocked more than 10 times by armed forces at checkpoints. They were able to continue their mission only after lengthy negotiations.

About 65% of the Armed forces of Philippines’ combat troops are concentrated on the island of Mindanao, where martial law was declared after the attack on the city of Marawai by ISIL last May. Initially declared for 60 days, the martial law was later extended till October last year, and once again till December this year. However, many have been killed for their political views too during this period. Of the 126 victims of political killings documented by Human Rights Alliance, Karapatan, 110 were farmers from this region, where large-scale foreign plantations and mining activities have been operating.

“The unabated militarization and Martial Law itself in Mindanao must be understood as a means for government, big landlords, oligarchs and multinational corporations to further bulldoze their way into the vast lands and resources of the island,” Rafael Mariano said. “This is not the way to address the roots of the armed conflict. This is not the way to a just and lasting peace.”

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