Seeking Redress in International Courts
Of the three possible international tribunals, the International Criminal Court (ICC) would have been the best choice. Colmenares said among all other international tribunals, the ICC stands out because it can penalize perpetrators of crimes against humanity, to which the Ampatuan massacre could apply. However, only countries that have ratified the Rome Statute can file cases before the ICC. Unfortunately, the Philippines has not ratified the treaty.
Former President Joseph Estrada has already signed the treaty. But when Arroyo came to power in 2001, Colmenares said, she did not give the senate the opportunity to concur and ratify the treaty. He added that almost 100 countries are members of the ICC but the Philippine government did not want to become a member reportedly because of fears that cases of human-rights violations might be filed against them in international tribunals. Colmenares described the reasoning as “a stupid, stupid remark. Then, they should not be violating human rights in the first place.”
Another reason why the Philippine government did not ratify the treaty, Colmenares said, is because of its ties with the US. The American Servicemen Protection Act stipulates that countries that become members of the ICC would no longer be given US military aid. And should any government detain an American soldier and file a case against him or her before the ICC, the US would undertake military action to free its soldier.
“Countries that did not ratify the Rome Statute did not only do so to court the favor of the US but also because of the veiled threat from the most powerful country in the world,” Colmenares said.
A case such as the Ampatuan massacre, Colmenares told Bulatlat, could be brought before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Despite the fact that the UNHRC has no power to penalize a human rights violator, the progressive solon said, bringing the case before it would give the case an international dimension and thus, add pressure to the Philippine government to act on the matter.
Colmenares said the gathering of evidences regarding the Philippine government’s unwillingness to prosecute the Ampatuans should be done with urgency, and the Ampatuan massacre case should be brought before the UNHRC immediately while the joint session of Congress is still ongoing. If and when the joint session of Congress declares that there is no need to declare martial law in Maguindanao because no rebellion is taking place, Colmenares said, it would provide the basis for the dismissal of the rebellion case against the Ampatuans. They could then walk free and escape culpability for their crimes.
If the Ampatuans get away with this heinous crime, the Philippines might move a rank higher next year in the impunity index of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said CPJ Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin. The Philippines is currently ranked sixth in the world and it is the only “peaceful-democratic country” that ranks high in the list. The five other countries, which topped the list — Iraq, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Colombia, Sri Lanka — are all war-torn countries.
The CPJ ranks countries in the impunity index by compiling the number of unsolved killings of journalists in a country over a 10-year period divided by the size of its population. The CPJ’s report of its impunity index is called “Getting Away with Murder.”
To show their concern over the developments in the country, it is the third time that representatives of CPJ have visited this year. The last time the CPJ visited the country was in April to release its 2009 report and to mark the fourth anniversary of the killing of Marlene Garcia-Esperat, a columnist of the Midland Review, who exposed the fertilizer scam and was killed in her home in Tacurong City, Cotabato.
However, as in the case of extrajudicial killings, the Arroyo administration appears also to be in a state of denial with regards the prevalence of impunity in the killing of journalists.
“The president’s secretary sent a text message to our colleagues saying that our report, which is based on quantitative evidence, was a bit of an exaggeration. And we see that reaction as indicative of denial that has allowed impunity to thrive in the Philippines. And which also allowed the Maguindanao massacre to happen,” Crispin said in a press briefing December 9.
“The mission reminds the Government of the Republic of the Philippines of its commitment to international agreements and obligations such as the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and lately the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738, which states that journalists, media professionals, and associated personnel engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered civilians, to be respected and protected as such,” the mission reported. (Bulatlat.com)