MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:03 p.m.) — The Free Legal Assistance Group has raised opposition to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s nomination to be part of a United Nations expert panel that develops and codifies international law.
FLAG chairman Chel Diokno and other officers of the group wrote to the International Law Commission in New York to register their opposition to Roque’s nomination to the body, saying the presidential spokesperson “does not possess the qualifications for a seat at the Commission.”
The FLAG said that while Roque taught international law, “he 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.”
Roque, who taught constitutional law and public international law for 15 years at the University of the Philippines – College of Law served as President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson in October 2017 until 2018. He was reappointed to the post in April 2020 after attempting to run for public office in 2019, a bid that he later abandoned, citing his health.
With his nomination, Roque stands to get elected by the UN General Assembly to the commission and become one of eight representatives from Asia-Pacific states to sit for five years in the panel beginning Jan. 1, 2023.
The ILC was instrumental in the creation of the International Criminal Court as it helped draft the statute that created the tribunal that tries genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.
Roque in New York for bid to join ILC
Roque confirmed in a virtual Palace briefing that he flew to New York in connection to his bid to become part of the ILC.
He explained that, if chosen, he will be joining the Commission in his personal capacity as an expert in international law. “This is not a full-time job. This has no salary. There will be meetings for a few weeks per year,” Roque added in Filipino.
According to the ILC’s website, members serve in their individual capacity and not as representatives of their governments. It also states that “[m]embers of the Commission are paid travel expenses and receive a special allowance in accordance with article 1348 of the Commission’s statute.”
Roque also dismissed oppositions to his nomination that claimed he had been working against the interest of justice as “bereft of legal merit.” He added that through his work as Palace spokesperson, he had been “affording the people their right to info by relaying correct and accurate information.”
Roque also branded the opposition raised by FLAG as “gross ignorance of what the ILC is all about.”
Roque’s work: Human rights lawyer to Duterte spokesperson
FLAG pointed out to the commission that Roque’s pronouncements as spokesperson of Duterte, who is being accused of crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court, make him ill-fitted to become a member of their panel.
“His public defense of extrajudicial killings, his belittling the competence and jurisdiction of the [ICC], and his cavalier disregard of the effects of domestic violations of human rights, among others make him ill-suited for the work of the Commission,” they said.
“His pronouncements have been made, alternately, with the sneering contempt for the plight of the victims or a callous attempt to justify the same with misplaced humor,” they added.
Apart from FLAG’s letter, human rights network iDEFEND has also objected to Roque’s potential inclusion in the international body, saying he “lacks the moral and ethical integrity to work in such a prestigious global mechanism and demonstrates questionable qualifications and expertise as an international legal expert.”
“Moreover, his record of contemptuous pronouncements against concepts and principles of human rights as well as international treaties such as [UN Convention on the Law of the Sea] and the ICC may stain the reputation of the ILC before the international community,” iDEFEND also said in a petition that it said has gained the support of “149 local, regional, national and international organizations” and “13,020 individuals from 69 countries.”
Roque on the ICC
Roque, a human rights lawyer before becoming Duterte’s spokesperson, said in his blog in 2011 that he never once dreamed the Philippines can be a member of the ICC. He had worked as chairperson of the Philippine Coalition for International Criminal Court (PCICC).
In 2011, he wrote: “To be candid, I never thought that membership in the ICC was possible, at least before I become geriatric.”
In 2018, Roque said he is supporting Duterte’s decision to withdraw from the ICC. He said then: “I acknowledge, I was at the forefront of ratifying the ICC. I was convenor for [PCICC]. I filed cases but I agree with the decision of the president,” he added.
FLAG told the Commission that Roque had “used his knowledge of international law to undermine the protections that international law provides under a regime of human rights and the rule of law.”
They also accused Roque for doing as such for political gains as he plans to seek elective office.
“All these demonstrate a patent lack of integrity and character that [makes] him utterly unworthy to even be seriously considered as part of the International Law Commission. He will bring no honor to the post he seeks instead, he will tarnish the same irreparably,” they said.
“FLAG respectfully asks the Commission to peremptorily disregard the nomination of Mr. Roque and remove him from consideration for a seat in the Commission,” they added. — with report from Xave Gregorio