After nine long years of lobbying, Supreme Court battles and waiting for the successor to a president who herself seemed a little scared of the International Criminal Court, the Philippines has taken a huge step towards becoming the newest member of the ICC.
The Instrument of Ratification for the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court was signed with little fanfare by President Benigno Aquino late last month. However, civil society groups, human rights lawyers, activists and even members of both houses of Congress are breathing a sigh of relief as they know the president's transmittal of the Rome Statute to the Senate for ratification, as required by the Constitution, is a significant step forward.
The ICC is the first permanent international tribunal created with the goal of prosecuting the most serious crimes against the international community, such as war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity.
It has been in operation since 2002, with 114 countries already signed up members. However, some countries have refused to ratify the Rome Statute because they perceive it as detrimental to their own interests. The most notable of these is the United States. This self-appointed global sheriff has armed forces deployed across the globe, forces that are from time to time accused of human rights abuses. By remaining a non-member of the ICC and negotiating special bilateral agreements with host countries, the United States continues to exempt itself and its armed forces from the ICC’s jurisdiction.
This line was backed by Aquino's predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo — a staunch ally of former US President George W. Bush. She supported the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and gained a controversial reputation for silencing local activists and citizen organizations who opposed the US 'War on Terror.'
Hundreds of activists, rebels and opposition members went missing or were killed during her time in office, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been accused by critics of being responsible for many of these disappearances. Such concerns appeared to be supported somewhat by a report by Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, who concluded that the Arroyo government had in place a systematic programme of repression that targeted communist rebels, left-wing activists and opposition groups.
But now that Aquino, himself once a victim of rights abuses during the Marcos dictatorship, has signed the Rome Statute — and with the Senate eager to ratify it — the country now looks much closer to joining the ICC.
For ICC supporters and rights abuse victims, this is a small victory. But it’s one that could mark the start of many more to come.