International Criminal Court

Drug war victims to Int’l Criminal Court: Charge Duterte with impeding justice

Lian Buan
Article 70 of the Rome Statute on the administration of justice is a separate offense, where the respondent can be issued with a warrant of arrest if there's evidence of impeding justice

Relatives of Filipinos who were killed in the brutal war on drugs have asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to bring on a separate charge against President Rodrigo Duterte for allegedly impeding justice.

Mothers of drug war victims, represented by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), submitted on January 22, a supplemental pleading to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda detailing the many times that Duterte either threatened Bensouda, insulted her, or undermined the ongoing preliminary examination.

The NUPL sent a reiterative letter on Saturday, February 13, which coincided with the election of Britain’s Karim Khan as new ICC prosecutor replacing Bensouda. Khan will start his 9-year term on June 16.

“The ICC Prosecutor should immediately initiate an investigation in relation to these offences against the administration of justice. Respondent Duterte should be held accountable for his blatant attempt to pervert the course of justice by intimidating and retaliating against the officials of the Court,” said the pleading.

The NUPL said that Duterte’s rhetoric against ICC and Bensouda, including a threat to arrest the prosecutor should she visit the Philippines, violate Article 70(D) of the Rome Statute.

Article 70(D) prohibits “impeding, intimidating or corruptly influencing an official of the Court for the purpose of forcing or persuading the official not to perform, or to perform improperly, his or her duties.”

In 2018, Duterte lashed out against the ICC by wrongly claiming that its judges are all Caucasians and are thus likely pedophiles. Duterte had withdrawn the Philippines from the ICC as a reaction to the opening of a preliminary examination.

“In the event of conviction, the Court may impose a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years, or a fine in accordance with the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, or both,” the Rome Statute said.

What is Article 70

The pre-trial chamber may issue a warrant against the respondents if there is probable cause that Article 70 was indeed violated.

In November 2020, Kenyan lawyer Paul Gicheru surrendered to the ICC 5 years after the court ordered his arrest over Bensouda’s charge that he had tried to bribe witnesses to recant their testimonies, a violation of Article 70(c). ICC is investigating crimes against humanity in Kenya for post-election violence that happened from 2007 to 2008.

Bensouda is still to decide whether to open a formal investigation into the Philippine case, but said in December 2020 that there’s “reasonable basis to believe that the crimes against humanity” were committed in Duterte’s war on drugs.

Bensouda said that the next move would be made within the first half of 2021.

Two factors in the ICC’s big picture may affect the Philippines – prioritization in the court’s case load, and the election of Khan, although not to start until June 16.

The ICC faces a “decisive moment” in history where it needs to prove its relevance in global justice. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.