human rights in the Philippines

Roque a ‘disgrace,’ say PH lawyers opposed to Int’l Law Commission bid

Lian Buan

Presidential photo

(1st UPDATE) Lawyers' groups tell UN member states that a Roque appointment in the ILC will diminish the body and 'may taint its credibility'

Filipino lawyers are opposing the bid of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque to be elected to the International Law Commission (ILC), with one group calling it a “hypocritical ambition of a fellow Filipino lawyer to reinvent himself.”

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said in a statement on Tuesday, September 14, that Roque – a former human rights lawyer – is “morally undeserving to be part of this august international legal organ.”

ILC is a United Nations (UN) body that helps in forming rules and legal norms to be adopted by UN member states. Being an ILC member is considered a prestigious post among international law scholars.

For defending President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies, including his sustained refusal to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC), the NUPL said Roque is “even perceived by not a few as a disgrace to the legal profession and academic community.”

Roque taught Public International Law (PIL) at the University of the Philippines College of Law, and until President Duterte came to power, was known in the Philippines as a human rights lawyer, taking on big public interest cases with the group he co-founded, the Center for International Law (CenterLaw).

“We respectfully dissent as a matter of principle against this hypocritical ambition of a fellow Filipino lawyer to reinvent himself, especially one supported by an administration widely disdained in the international community for its human rights violations and its fluctuating adherence and even regressive positions on vital international  law and principles,” said the NUPL.

“To elect him to the Commission is to diminish its respectability, mock its objectives and may taint its integrity,” it added.

‘He used expertise to undermine international law’

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), also one of the leading legal and human rights groups in the country, did the formal route of writing to each member state to urge them not to elect Roque.

“While he has degrees in law and has taught Public International Law, he is a political partisan who has actively demonstrated contempt for the rule of law and, with specific relevance to the Commission, has undermined the supremacy of human rights and international law,” said FLAG in their letter sent on September 12.

FLAG urged the members to take note of Roque’s public statements, including persistent denials that there are extrajudicial killings in the president’s bloody drug war.

“His public defense of extrajudicial killings, his belittling of the competence and jurisdiction of the ICC, and his cavalier disregard of the effects of domestic violations of human rights, among others make him ill-suited for the work of the Commission,” said FLAG.

In the middle of confusing transitions to new quarantine classifications in the Philippines, Roque flew to New York as the member states choose the 34 members of the ILC.

The election will take place during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at the UN general headquarters in New York, which opened Tuesday. Roque was nominated by the Philippines through President Duterte.

“Hahayaan ko na po ang mga estado sa daigdig na magdesisyon kung karapat-dapat po ba ako na mahalal sa ILC. Pero ang kwalipakisayon lang po ay eksperto po sa larangan ng international law,” Roque said.

(I will let the member states decide if I’m worthy to be elected to the ICC. But my qualification is that I am an expert in international law.)

“He has used his knowledge of international law to undermine the protections that international law provides under a regime of human rights and the rule of law,” said FLAG.

The group added: “His motivations for doing so are clearly for political gain as he has not been discreet about his plans to seek elective office.”

UP Diliman ExeCom: Roque will ‘diminish the reputation’ of ILC

The University of the Philippines Diliman Executive Committee (ExeCom) also opposed the nomination of Roque to a seat in the ILC.

“The UP Diliman Executive Committee, at its 314th meeting held on 13 September 2021, resolves that it opposes the nomination of former UP faculty member Atty. Herminio “Harry” L. Roque Jr, to the International Law Commission,” the UP Diliman ExeCom said.

“Atty. Roque has a very poor track record of promoting, defending, and fulfilling human rights and the rule of law, especially during the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte. Therefore, his inclusion in the Commission would not serve its purposes but instead diminish the reputation of the body,” it added.

The UP Diliman ExeCom is chaired by the chancellor, and has as members the vice chancellors, deans and directors of colleges and schools, the university registrar, and three members-at-large elected by the University Council.

Roque is being floated as one of the senatorial candidates for the 2022 national elections of ruling party PDP-Laban. He was supposed to run for the Senate in the 2019 midterm elections but he dropped out, citing health reasons.

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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.