Lawyers, academe oppose presidential spox’s bid to UN body

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MANILA – “Competence must go with consistency and credibility,” said the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) in its reaction to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque’s bid to the United Nations International Law Commission.

“Mr. Roque was a voluble and visible Filipino public interest lawyer who has regrettably transmogrified into a legal chameleon who uses legal speak to spin reality and reinterprets many established legal notions and principles to suit official political narratives,” the NUPL said in a statement.

Roque confirmed his bid during his regular press briefing yesterday, Sept. 13, from New York City.

NUPL President Edre Olalia described Roque as defender of President Rodrigo Duterte, including “several questionable and even bizarre policies and pronouncements on the rule of law, due process, justice and international accountability.”

The NUPL also noted how Roque has humored Duterte’s misogynist remarks, enabled political repression including weaponization of the law, scowled against legitimate criticism and dissent, intimidated members of media, berated and insulted health professionals critical of failed pandemic measures, undermined international accountability bodies like the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN Human Rights Council, its mechanisms and treaty bodies, and downplayed or justified many official actions of dubious legal and constitutional validity.

Another lawyers’ group, the Free Legal Assistance Group, also wrote to the International Law Commission on Sept. 12 to oppose the nomination of Roque.

The group asserts that Roque does not possess the qualifications for a seat in the Commission even as he has a law degree and has taught Public International Law.

They added that Roque 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.”

FLAG said Roque defended the government’s campaign against illegal drugs that has resulted in killings of thousands of urban poor in the country as well as extrajudicial killings of activists. Roque in fact has once said, “There is no crime as extrajudicial killings” because there can never be judicial killings.”

“To be clear, membership in the Commission is reserved to those persons of recognized competence in both doctrinal and practical aspects of international law. His public defense of the extrajudicial killings, his belittling of the competence and jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and his cavalier disregard of the effects of the domestic violations of human rights, among others make him ill-suited for the work of the Commission,” FLAG said in its letter.

‘Poor track record’

Meanwhile, the University of the Philippine Diliman Executive Committee also expressed their opposition to Roque’s nomination, saying that he “has a very poor track record of promoting, defending, and fulfilling human rights and the rule of law,” especially under Duterte’s administration.

“Therefore, his inclusion in the Commission would not serve its purposes but instead diminish the reputation of the body,” they added.

The 34 present members of the UN’s International Law Commission is about to end in 2022. The nomination period started last June 1.

The election of the members of the Commission will take place at the 76th session of the General Assembly which will happen this November. Those who will be elected will begin their five-year term on Jan. 1, 2023.

With this, Olalia hoped that lawyers and bar associations, UN-accredited International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), its national associations worldwide, and other allied international lawyers organizations, “would continue to campaign and lobby with UN member states and their respective Missions until such elections in November this year.”

Olalia also said that the NUPL also plans to send formal submissions to the UN General Assembly.

“With no sense of pleasure, 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,” Olalia said. (RVO) (

Featured image by Alex Suarez/Bulatlat

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