Roque to government: Bring Basilan clash before ICC

MANILA, Philippines — University of the Philippines law professor Harry Roque called on the Philippine government to raise before the International Criminal Court (ICC) the alleged murder of soldiers by forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Basilan.

In a UP forum Friday, Roque said the killing may constitute the first breach of international humanitarian law since the Philippines ratified the Rome Statute in August 2011. The Rome Statute provides for the establishment of the ICC, which prosecutes genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The ICC is based in The Hague, Netherlands.

At least 19 soldiers were killed Tuesday in Al-Barka, Basilan in a clash with the MILF. Media reports say some of the fatalities actually survived the firefight but were later captured and then killed by the MILF. The MILF has not issued any statement confirming or denying this.

But in interviews he granted the media today, MILF vice chairman Gadzhali Jaafar said the MILF will not surrender its fighters involved in the Basilan clash. The rebel group is also calling for an impartial probe of the firefight to be led by international monitors and civilians.

“This is a matter that I think is perfect for referral to the ICC,” Roque said. “International humanitarian law prohibits the wanton killing of detainees under the custody of an enemy. What they (MILF) should have done was detain them (soldiers) but they are entitled to humanitarian treatment. They should not have been the object of wanton killing so this is the crime of wanton killing.”

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, the keynote speaker in the UP forum, disagreed with Roque. Santiago expressed doubts that the Philippines can build a case on war crimes before the ICC. She said under the Rome Statute, war crimes must be characterized as widespread or part of a systematic plan or policy to commit atrocity.

“In order for us to be able to sidestep the problem, it is better not to bring the case before the ICC but to charge them (MILF) with murder in regular RTCs (regional trial courts) in our country because then we don’t have to prove that there was a plan or a policy to exterminate whole peoples or inflict this on a widespread population.”

Like Roque, though, Santiago admitted that protocols of the Geneva Convention were violated when the MILF allegedly killed soldiers in their custody. “You are allowed to kill an adversary only in the open battle field, only in the theater of war when you are shooting each other, you either kill or be killed.”

Santiago is a candidate for a seat to the ICC. She will fly to New York on Tuesday to meet with ambassadors of member-countries of the ICC. If elected, Santiago will be the first Southeast Asian to sit on the independent international body. Elections to the ICC will be held during the tenth session of the Assembly of State Parties in New York in December.