Former Philippine officials Albert del Rosario and Conchita Carpio Morales announced on Thursday they have filed a human rights complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Chinese President Xi Jinping over his government’s actions in the South China Sea.
The timing of their filing is significant because President Rodrigo Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the International Criminal Court on Sunday. Duterte made the decision to withdraw a year ago after the ICC launched an investigation of his war on drugs, a policy he fiercely defends despite its high body count and allegations of corruption and unnecessary violence. Duterte vowed the ICC “can never acquire jurisdiction over my person, not in a million years.”
Del Rosario and Morales filed their complaint against Xi and his top officials just days before the Philippines formally withdrew from the international court. They accused the Chinese of causing severe environmental damage by artificially enhancing disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea and committing crimes against humanity by blocking Filipino fishermen from working their traditional fishing grounds. Some of the affected fishermen co-sponsored the ICC filing.
In addition to President Xi Jinping, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and China’s ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jinhua, were named as “perpetrators” of crimes against humanity in the ICC filing.
Del Rosario, who was formerly foreign minister of the Philippines, sent a copy of the filing to Rappler on Thursday to outline the precise nature of the charges:
Del Rosario, Morales, and the fishermen told the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor that Xi and other Chinese officials have committed crimes “which involve massive, near-permanent, and devastating environmental damage across nations.”
They said the environmental damage occurred as Xi and other officials implement “China’s systemic plan to take over the South China Sea.” The Philippines owns rights over part of these waters, called the West Philippine Sea by Manila.
“These violations of China, through President Xi Jinping and other officials, have caused serious injury to (a) an identifiable group of Filipino nationals who depend on fishing for their livelihood; and (b) to present and future generations of inhabitants of the coastal countries in the South China Sea, including Filipino nationals, by accelerating a fisheries collapse and, consequently, a food shortage across several nations,” said Del Rosario, Morales, and the fishermen in their complaint.
The document was addressed to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, the very same official Duterte insulted in colorful terms after she questioned his drug war and threatened to arrest if she ever sets foot in the Philippines.
“We urge you to initiate a preliminary examination on this matter, if only so the Court can apprise itself of Chinese crimes committed not only against the Filipino people, but also against people of other nations, which crimes are already known to the international community,” the complainants wrote to Bensouda.
It remains to be seen if Bensouda will act on the complaint against China, but on Monday she issued a statement making it clear that she will continue investigating Duterte’s drug war despite the Philippine withdrawal from the ICC. Spokesmen for the Duterte administration denounced Bensouda’s ongoing investigation as a violation of Philippine national sovereignty.
China is not a party to the Rome Statute authorizing the ICC, it has a history of shielding its allies from ICC rulings, and it generally disregards international court judgments it does not like, prominently including an international tribunal case over the South China Sea that China lost to the Philippines.
Albert del Rosario led the Filipino team to the Hague in that case, so he knows perfectly well the Chinese will simply tear up any ICC ruling against Xi Jinping, and they will continue to deny Filipino fishermen access to the disputed islands. If anything, Chinese naval activities in the area are increasing.
President Duterte displayed little enthusiasm for the ICC case against China in remarks to reporters on Thursday, pointing out that the court has no technical jurisdiction over Beijing. Duterte has generally adopted a submissive relationship with China, valuing Chinese investment over South China Sea territorial claims he believes his country has little chance of enforcing.
“Anybody can bring a suit against anybody, but whether or not it would prosper or whether or not we have the jurisdiction, that’s something else,” he said.