The first event involving victims of serious human rights violations in the Asian region, their representatives, advocates and lawyers was held in a two-day seminar in Quezon City, Philippines by the NGO Coalition for the ICC (CICC), Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia), the Asian Federation Against Disappearances (AFAD) and hosted locally by the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court (PCICC). The seminar aimed to introduce the Court to its most obvious stakeholders- victims of human rights violations and breach of international humanitarian law.
Twenty six participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Nepal, Thailand and Sri Lanka as well as international legal experts from Amnesty International, REDRESS, and ICRC joined the Honorable ICC Judge Erkki Kourula in discussing the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court's provisions dealing with the protection, assistance and participation of victims and witnesses.
The conference was supported by the governments of Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Representatives of the diplomatic community in Manila were present during the opening activity. CICC New York and Forum Asia also gave support.
A ceremony offering flowers at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Shrine marked the 18th anniversary of the EDSA People Power revolt that ended the dictatorship of Marcos in the Philippines, and honored martyrs of repression.
Results of the Seminar:
Keynote Address by Hon. Judge Erkki Kourula
Judge Kourula stressed that As one of the first eighteen judges elected to the ICC, I am happy to address an audience composed of representatives of governments and civil society from Asia, a region crucial to the development of the ICC. As Coordinator of the Working Group of Victims' Issues at the Court, I am honored to be in the presence of those for whom this Court was created: the women, men and children who have suffered from the worst crimes known to humankind.
He presented four issues: the development of the Court itself; the jurisdiction of the Court; victims' rights and standards provided in the ICC Statute; and the emphasis on the need for ratification and implementation of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court, especially those dealing with victims' rights.
The Judge said that as of January 2004, 715 communications from 72 different countries were received by the Office of the ICC Prosecutor, from NGOs and individuals. The Prosecutor announced that he is following closely the serious situation in Ituri, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The government of Uganda has also referred to the ICC, cases involving the Lord's Resistance Army. The Prosecutor now has to determine whether there is reasonable basis to start an investigation.
A discussion on the crimes and timeframe under the jurisdiction of the Court followed. Hon. Kourula stressed that . . . the ICC's jurisdiction is also limited to prosecuting people who are the nationals of a State which is a Party (like a member) of the Court, or people who commit one of these crimes on the territory of such a State. There are certain circumstances where these rules do not apply, such as when the UN Security Council refers a situation to the Court or where a State which has not yet ratified the Rome Statute accepts the Court's jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis.
It was emphasized that the ICC works to end impunity and this is more evident in the provisions giving due recognition to victims' rights and standards. Victims before the ICC will have rights and assistance that have never before been incorporated into the mandate of an international court or tribunal. Rather than serving just as witnesses to a prosecution or as the beneficiaries of a conviction, the ICC allows victims to participate and benefit from the work of the Court in novel and innovative ways. The two units of the Court which deal primarily with victims' rights are the Victims' Participation and Reparations Unit and the Victims and Witnesses Unit. Further significant points were added, in that Victims will be able to participate in stages of the Court's proceedings determined to be appropriate by the Court, and in a manner which is not prejudicial or inconsistent with the rights of the accused and a fair and impartial trial…
The keynote addressed the importance of working for a greater number of ratifications especially in under-represented regions such as Asia.
Victims' groups shared their country situations with the Judge and inquired into the possibility of jurisdiction over some individual cases . Most of the crimes were committed in the past and as such would not fall under the jurisdiction of the Court, however, there are continuing cases such as the sexual violence in Burma and those committed in conflict-ridden countries such as Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. The Judge's responses were mostly reminders of the non-retrospectivity of the Court's jurisdiction, encourage domestic judicial remedies, or if not possible, to urge these representatives to join efforts toward ratification by their governments, so that countries would have prior responsibility to address these cases.
Keynote Address by His Excellency Teofisto Guingona Jr., Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines
Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. is one of the few leaders of his stature in the region who support ratification of the ICC. The Vice President renewed his commitment to ratification and assured the participants of his highest regard for their efforts at ending impunity worldwide. He expressed misgivings about the RP-US Bilateral Agreement, saying that in the process, the Philippines departed from a fundamental principle of international law. The Vice President committed to raise the victims' interests in all his endeavors by working with government toward eventual ratification and implementation of the ICC treaty.
Joint Meeting of the Philippine Congress on the Status of Philippine Ratification
Representatives of two Senators and several Congresspersons attended the first joint meeting of the House of Representatives and the Senate to discuss the status of the Philippine ratification of the Rome Statute. The meeting updated members of Congress and the Senate about the ICC and the status of ratification in the Philippines. The hosts of the meeting, House and Senate Committees on Justice and Human Rights, invited officials from the Department of National Defense, Interior and Local Government, National Security Council, and Foreign Affairs. Representatives of the Secretariat of the National Security Council and of the Department of Interior and Local Government were in attendance. The House Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights chairperson Congresswoman Loretta Ann P. Rosales opened the event by welcoming Judge Kourula.
Mr. Kourula gave an update on the cases now being brought before the ICC, developments in the Victims and Witnesses and the Victims' Participation Units of the ICC and gave inspiring words on the importance of getting the Philippines on board the Court. He urged Parliamentarians and Cabinet officials alike to join forces and pursue the domestic process.
The National Security Council Secretariat and the Interior Department promised to forward their respective positions in favor of ratification, to the House and Senate committees hosting the forum.
While a majority of the supporters of ratification from both Houses of Congress were absent due to the ongoing campaign period for the May national polls, the Philippine Parliamentarians for the ICC was nevertheless launched with a number of the members of the House of Representatives.
Meeting with the Secretary of the Department of Justice
Justice Secretary Merceditas Gutierrez met with members of the Philippine Coalition in 2002 and has assigned State Counsel Ruben Fondevilla as NGO liaison on the ICC process. The Justice Department sits as a member of the National Task Force coordinating the ratification process and the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COCIS), which reportedly has shelved the ratification bill, at the insistence of the Department of National Defense.
Secretary Gutierrez informed the group that the government is gathering the responses of different involved agencies on ratification. This has already been done as early as 1998, when the ICC Task Force of the government was set up after the Rome Conference, but may have been necessary due to the change in Presidency and the recent turnover in heads of the Departments. Among those confirmed positive toward ratification were the Justice and Foreign Affairs Departments. The National Defense Department apparently accepted ratification provided the Philippines takes advantage of the Art. 124 in the Rome Statute, providing for a seven-year reservation from implementation of the same.
Plans of Action
Major action plans included harnessing the standards created by the ICC into legal reform in our domestic contexts. Other plans were the following: