Press Release
February 4, 2009

Gordon seeks Senate's swift approval of International Humanitarian Law bill

Independent Senator Richard J. Gordon today sought for the Senate's immediate action on a measure codifying international humanitarian law (IHL) within the country's legal system that would penalize and deny safe havens for those who committed war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

Gordon made the appeal to his colleagues in the Senate as he formally took the floor to sponsor Senate Bill 2669, an act defining and penalizing crimes against international humanitarian law and other serious international crimes, operationalizing universal jurisdiction, and designating special courts.

"We appeal for the immediate passage of Senate Bill 2669 as our symbolic gesture of our continuing adherence and strong commitment to IHL. But above symbolisms, our goal is to end impunity and penalize crimes against IHL," he said.

"There is a need to codify international crimes within the domestic legal system to ensure that those who commit war crimes, genocide, and other crimes against humanity are not afforded impunity for their acts," he added.

The IHL is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, a limit to the effects of armed conflict such that persons who are not or are no longer participating in hostilities are protected and the means and methods of warfare are restricted.

The core of SB 2669 seeks to define three international crimes, namely war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, and to impose a severe penalty of imprisonment depending on the gravity of the crime committed.

War crimes or serious violations of IHL are acts committed in a situation of armed conflict and against a person not taking part, or no longer taking part in the hostilities.

In international armed conflict, war crimes include willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment and willfully causing great injury. In non-international armed conflict the criminal acts include violence to life and person, outrages upon personal dignity and taking of hostages.

Crimes against humanity are acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, such as murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, enforced disappearance, among others.

In genocide, the primary element is that the act is committed with the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.

"Senate Bill 2669 will ensure that the most serious crimes of concern to the international community do not go unpunished, by providing for their effective prosecution at the level of domestic courts," Gordon said.

"The bill also provides that Philippine courts shall take additional measures to protect the safety, physical and psychological well-being, dignity and privacy of victims and witnesses," he added.

Gordon said the bill also introduces into the country's penal system principles of criminal responsibility unique to the prosecution of international crimes such as command responsibility, non-prescription of crimes and irrelevance of official capacity.

In command responsibility, a superior is held responsible if he has done nothing to prevent a subordinate from committing a violation of IHL.

Prescription will not apply, especially in view of the gravity of certain violations that run counter to the interests of the international community as a whole, because the repression of serious violations of IHL is essential to ensuring respect for this branch of law.

Meanwhile, the provision of irrelevance of official capacity states that, while respecting the constitutional principles of Presidential immunity from suit, the courts will be enabled to exercise jurisdiction over persons enjoying immunities or special procedure rules that may be attached to the official capacity of a person.

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