[People] Philippine suspects can be tried by the ICC – Fr. Shay Cullen

(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

The historic moment came last August 23, 2011 when the symbolic gravel hit the desk of the Senate speaker and Philippines ratified the Rome Statute and submitted itself to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This was possible thanks to President Noynoy Aquino who sent it to the Senate for ratification. Senator Miriam Santiago has been its strongest advocate.

The days when any individual suspected and accused of committing or instigating genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression are over. Those arrogant Philippine war lords, their assassins and goons who think they can rape, murder, plunder and devastate communities with impunity can and will be brought to answer for there crimes. The Philippine government will have to arrest and turn them over to the court in The Netherlands.

All who hunger and thirst of justice can look forward with hope that some of the worst perpetrators of these crimes in Philippines and elsewhere will be brought to trial before the International Criminal Court and be judged fairly and punished if found guilty for their crimes. Those police, military and political commanders who run death squads, especially those who murder minors, can now be indicted for crimes of aggression or even for crimes against humanity. Military commanders who shell or bomb civilians and villages can be brought to trial. Even a sitting president, like Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity and an arrest warrant has been issued for him. Libyan strongman Colonel Qaddafi will be put on trial one day too must first be brought to trial in Libya.

The most important ongoing trial that is to end soon is that of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. He has been detained in The Hague ICC jails in The Netherlands since 2006. He is the first to be brought before the court. This will be the first case of its kind where victims will be called to testify. Last week one youth was petrified with fear and could not testify because of the angry glaring of Lubanga.

The prosecution and court has to learn how to present child witnesses and empower encourage and protect them while giving testimony against their abusers. In this situation where a former child soldier was being intimidated by the accused, the court ordered a screen to be placed between the accused and his victim.

This is the first international trial of a military commander for child abuse. Lubanga is the leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and the commander-in-chief of its military wing; the Forces patriotiques pour la libération du Congo (FPLC). He is on trial accused of kidnapping, abducting, coercing and recruiting children under the age of 15 to become soldiers. He taught hundreds of these children to kill, even their own parents, brother, sisters and neighbors. The children were brutalized by being forced to participate in torture and the chopping of prisoners’ arms and legs and if they refused they were savagely beaten and tortured themselves. They were forced to fight or be killed themselves. The atrocities Lubanga is accused of took place between September 2002 to 13 August 2003. The closing statements by the defense, prosecution and participating victims are scheduled to be delivered on 25 and 26 August 2011.

Filipinos can be charged for similar offences that harms groups of children like those assassinated in Philippine cities tolerated by city officials. According to the coalition for the International Criminal Court (www.iccnow.org) also on trial for similar crimes are “Congolese warlords Germain Katanga and Matthieu Ngudjolo Chui which opened on 24 November 2009. It is ICC’s second trial.

Katanga and Ngudjolo are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the village of Bogoro in the Ituri district of eastern DRC from January to March 2003. They are tried for alleged murder or willful killing, inhumane acts, sexual slavery, rape, cruel or inhuman treatment, using children to participate actively in hostilities, outrages upon personal dignity, intentional attack against the civilian population, pillaging and destruction of property. Similar atrocities have happened in the Philippines and have gone unpunished.

An international indictment is a reality facing Philippine war lords, mayors, governors, police and military commanders. The human rights organizations have gathered the evidence against them and can lodge it with the ICC anytime. May all who hunger and thirst for truth and justice have their fill and may the victims find closure, justice and peace. END


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