The War on Human Rights: Countering Duterte’s dismissal of the ICC Probe

Aisiri Raj, Rahul Rajasekar and Lekha Suki make a case for extending International Criminal Responsibility to Filipino President Duterte and the law enforcement officials for their failure to guarantee the right to life and protect their civilians from the unjustified use of force by the police officials. 

In June 2021, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) requested judicial authorisation to investigate extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, bringing Philippine President Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’ campaign back into the spotlight. Since 2016, over 7,000 such killings have been reported, and only one instance resulted in the conviction of police officials for the use of excessive force. However, President Duterte is largely dismissive of the probe, asserting that the War on Drugs is a sovereign exercise in the interest of national security and justifying extrajudicial killings as the law enforcement personnel’s right to self-defence. This article analyses the failure of the State to guarantee the right to life and to protect its civilians from the unjustified use of force by police officials in the Philippines. 

The Justification of Self-Defence under International Human Rights Law 

Under the assertion of self-defence, the wide-ranging powers granted to police forces in the Philippines do not follow the requisite due process obligations to conduct investigations and collect evidence but instead use lethal and unjustified force on ‘mere suspicion’ that individuals might be in possession of illicit drugs. According to the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement, force can only be used as a last resort when other means are ineffective. The absence of verbal warnings and directions by police to surrender violates the binding principles of necessity and proportionality under the general principles governing the use of force. This principle has been recognised by the Supreme Court of Philippines, which held that the presence of an ‘imminent threat’ is the required threshold for exercising proportionate self-defence in the course of public duty.  

The Philippines, being a State Party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), must guarantee the right to life to all its civilians. The justification of self-defence is not absolute in International Human Rights Law (IHRL), where the right to life is non-derogable, and its deprivation cannot be arbitrary. The blanket justification of self-defence by the law enforcement was similarly invoked in Suarez De Guerrero v Colombia (Communication No 45/1979) and was rejected by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee on the grounds that disproportionate killing of suspects is an arbitrary deprivation of the right to life under Article 6(1) of the ICCPR.  

Further, the acts of the police officials violate the drug suspect’s right to fair trial under Article 10 of the UDHR by denying them the opportunity to be heard and the right to legal counsel. The arbitrary manner in which the killings were carried out violates the requirement of presumption of innocence under Article 14(2) of the ICCPR, whereby a suspect’s guilt must be determined by affording them a fair and impartial trial. This arguably represents a complete failure of the constitutional machinery as well as the judiciary in the Philippines in ensuring access to justice. The Philippines has violated its obligations under IHRL since the acts of law enforcement do not constitute a justified use of self-defence which, as explained below, is a relevant finding for the ICC’s jurisdiction to prosecute. 

Criminal Responsibility for Crimes against Humanity under International Criminal Law  

According to the Special Prosecutor’s Office of the ICC, the actions taken pursuant to the “War on Drugs” policy may constitute crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. The authors are of the opinion that the War on Drugs satisfies the elements of Article 7 for the following reasons: 

  1. First, it is an organised state-sanctioned policy with large-scale, systematic violence committed against the civilian population. 
  1. Secondly, President Duterte’s explicit orders require law enforcement to arbitrarily kill all drug suspects, indicating the presence of mens rea to carry out such acts. 
  1. Lastly, mens rea is further evident in the actions of the State by granting complete impunity from prosecution to the police responsible for such mass atrocities and perversely rewarding them for extrajudicial killings

The large-scale and widespread nature of this deprivation of life constitutes a systematic ‘murder’ of civilians under International Criminal Law (ICL), specifically under Article 7(1)(a) of the Rome Statute. The proximity between IHRL and ICL implies that serious violations of human rights are regarded as crimes against humanity. For instance, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in Prosecutor v Karadzić (Case no IT-95-5/18-T, 6 April 2009)  noted the confluence between the deprivation of human rights and crimes against humanity in instances of torture and rape, as an attack on human dignity. This can be reasonably applied to the present case as murder in the form of extrajudicial killings are IHRL and ICL violations worthy of prosecution by the ICC.  

President Duterte’s claims that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the Philippines due to its withdrawal from the ICC in 2019. However, international criminal responsibility would be extended to President Duterte and the law enforcement officials responsible for mass atrocities committed, as a termination of consent to the Rome Statute does not constitute immunity from prosecution since the ICC retains jurisdiction over crimes committed during the time the Philippines was a State Party from 2011 to 2019.

Failure of R2P Obligations 

The refusal of the Filipino Government to acknowledge the human rights violations, investigate and order State agents to stand down, is reflective of the failure of its responsibility to protect (R2P) obligations to its civilians. This norm places an obligation on States to guarantee to their civilian population the basic human rights of safety and security to prevent mass atrocities in their territory.  

Pillar I of R2P emphasises the sovereign responsibility to monitor and prevent any atrocity before it occurs through effective cognisance, sanction, monitoring and fair trial.  In casu, the existing state structures such as the National Prosecution Service under the Department of Justice required to initiate prosecutions on human rights violations, the National Ombudsman, which is constitutionally empowered to undertake investigations in cases of unlawful and illegal acts of the police, and the National Human Rights Council, have failed to prevent mass killings and protect the rights of the civilians. The welfare approach of R2P places a responsibility on the Philippines to protect and guarantee the welfare of its population. However, Duterte’s government deems countering narcotics through extrajudicial killings as the most suitable way to handle the drug problem.  

The international community has remained silent over the UN Human Rights Council’s failure to investigate the extrajudicial killings in the country. As Gallagher et al note, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) States, China and Russia value diplomatic relations and the principle of non-interference, and have maintained that the War on Drugs is a domestic concern, legitimising the stance of the Filipino Government. Therefore, the initiation of the ICC Probe is a means of upholding Pillar II of the R2P, the responsibility of the international community to assist States in protecting their populations, as it attempts to launch an international investigation to punish President Duterte and the law enforcement officials, who are accountable for the mass killing of their population. Therefore, it is necessary for the rest of the international community to take collective action and support the work of the UNHRC and the ICC to ensure justice for the victims of state violence in the Philippines.  

Aisiri Raj, Rahul Rajasekar & Lekha Suki are fourth year Law (Honours) Students at School of Law, Christ University, Bengaluru, with academic and professional experience in International Human Rights Law, Constitutional Law and Public Policy in India.

New technology, equity and the law of the sea — Aline Jaeckel and Harriet Harden-Davies

Advancements in new technologies open up new ocean industries and possibilities to explore the ocean. Some of these new technologies, such as swarms of underwater mini robots to map the seafloor or sensors on automated underwater vehicles, assist scientists in their work and produce growing quantities of ocean data. Other technologies enable us to extract evermore resources from the ocean, be it wave energy, fish, genetic materials or seafloor minerals. Still others provide new ways to conserve marine ecosystems, such as the use of satellite technologies to monitor human activity at sea and detect illegal fishing in marine protected areas. 

Given the many possibilities offered by ocean technologies, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development starting this year aims to stimulate innovation and access to new technology to increase ocean exploration. Yet, whether new technology will help us achieve the UN Agenda 2030 sustainable development goal of ‘leaving no-one behind’ and contribute to positive social, environmental and economic benefits will depend on how, where, and by whom ocean science and technology is used in pursuit of ‘sustainable development’. 

This calls for research and action into how ocean science and technology can address, rather than perpetuate, inequities between states and communities. International law provides the legal framework, though it is far from perfect.  

Read More

Announcement of Brennan Prize Winner: Jack McNally, ‘Restrictions on the Freedom of Navigation in the Northern Sea Route: Implications for Arcticus Liberum’

The Australian Branch of the International Law Association is pleased to announce the winner of the 2021 Brennan Essay Prize in Public International Law. The Brennan Prize is named for Sir Gerard Brennan AC KBE QBS QC, former Chief Justice of Australia and Patron of the Branch. Sir Gerard was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1981 and appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in recognition of his service to the law in 1988.

The winner of the 2021 Brennan Prize is Jack McNally, for his paper ‘Restrictions on the Freedom of Navigation in the Northern Sea Route: Implications for Arcticus Liberum’. Mr McNally is a final year Bachelor of Arts (International Relations) / Bachelor of Laws (Honours) student at the University of New South Wales. He currently works as a Research Assistant at UNSW Law, where his research focusses on public international law, the law of the sea and international dispute settlement, and as a Law Clerk in the International Arbitration Group of King & Wood Mallesons. The Australian Branch of the International Law Association expresses its congratulations to Mr McNally on his successful entry.

Mr McNally

The abstract for the paper is included below:

The freedom of navigation is one of the fundamental principles of international order. However, as the effects of anthropogenic climate change grow greater and the extent of Arctic sea ice continues to decline, a question arises as to whether, and to what degree, the freedom of navigation applies in formerly ice-covered areas. This question is not an abstract one. Arctic States have asserted extensive sovereign rights over formerly ice-covered shipping routes, imposing restrictions on the freedom of navigation of both merchant vessels and warships. Whether these restrictions are valid impositions on the freedom of navigation is an unresolved question, complicated by the genuine interests of littoral States in the protection of the Arctic’s highly sensitive marine environment. If, however, these restrictions are acquiesced in by the international community, they may operate to restrict the freedom of navigation and diminish its content in formerly ice-covered areas. Accordingly, there is a need for States to strike a balance between permitting restrictions on the freedom of navigation that pursue environmental protection, while contesting those that exceed what is permitted under international law. This article seeks to provide the necessary legal framework to enable States to undertake that balancing exercise and to, in turn, ensure the Arctic remains mare liberum.

Announcement of Nygh Prize Winner: Michael Douglas, ‘Does Choice of Law Matter?’

The Australian Branch of the International Law Association is pleased to announce the winner of the 2021 Nygh Essay Prize in Private International Law. This prize is named in honour of the late Dr Peter Nygh AM, a leading Australian scholar of private international law and former President of the Branch. Dr Nygh was a judge of the Family Court of Australia, a member of Australia’s first delegation to, and played an integral role in, The Hague Conference on Private International Law and was awarded the Centenary Medal by the Australian Government as well as the Order of Australia, partly in recognition of his outstanding and longstanding contribution to private international law, and in particular his representation of Australia at The Hague Conference.

The winner of the 2021 Nygh Prize is Michael Douglas for his paper ‘Does Choice of Law Matter?’ Mr Douglas is completing his PhD in private international law at Sydney Law School. He works as an academic at UWA Law School and in a litigation firm in Perth. The Australian Branch of the International Law Association expresses its congratulations to Mr Douglas on his successful entry.

The abstract for the paper is included below:

We ought to rethink how we understand the conflict of laws in Australia with respect to forum statutes. Views which may be orthodox in conflict of laws scholarship no longer align to the proper treatment of forum statutes in cross-border civil litigation in Australian courts. Statutory interpretation is of primary importance in determining issues in cross-border litigation before Australian courts involving forum statutes. As most cases involve statutes, statutory interpretation is thus of primary importance to most cross-border litigation. This approach is statutist, in that, like the statutism of centuries ago, it favours interpretation as the method to determine issues of territorial scope of law. It also follows in the tradition of Currie’s governmental interest analysis in that it favours the interests of forum institutions in resolution of questions in cases with a foreign element. Choice of law, in the traditional sense of its traditional techniques, still matters. But statutory interpretation matters more in the actual life of the law. This ought to be embraced by scholars and teachers. Perhaps then the realm of the conflict of laws will be less dismal, less mysterious and more comprehensible to those who understand the law better than many of those in the ivory tower: actual lawyers.

Mr Douglas

The Paris Agreement’s White Whale: the hunt for greater ambition on shipping emissions — Tess Van Geelen

The shipping industry is often described as the ‘backbone’ of the international trade system, accounting for up to 90% of the global trade in goods. Even after the emergence of relatively affordable and much faster air freight, shipping continues to dominate due to its high efficiency and lower cost. Shipping is also generally seen as a greener alternative to air freight. According to some studies, shipping produces up to 40 times less CO2 equivalent than air freight.

Still, the sheer size of the fleet means that shipping makes a significant contribution to climate change. Current estimates put that contribution at around 2 or 3% of total global anthropogenic emissions. Shipping also causes a variety of other types of environmental damage, including oil spills, ship strikes that kill or wound marine animals, underwater noise pollution, and the transport of invasive species between ports.

Studies project that the rate of growth in shipping is likely to overwhelm recent efforts aimed at curbing emissions from the sector. Some studies have projected a future increase in emissions from shipping of up to 250% by 2050.

Read More

Could Australia’s Environment Minister face prosecution at The Hague for “ecocide” due to climate change inaction? – Joshua Clarke

The recent report of the UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the latest in a series of events building pressure on Australias climate policy sclerosis. When an expert legal panel published a definition of ecocide” in June, it grabbed fewer headlines. But this international law milestone has potential implications for leaders globally. This article examines the proposed international crime of ecocide and considers what it means for political leaders whose countries are hindering global climate action.

A series of inconvenient events

It has been quite a month for headlines with temperature-related metaphors, and the news they were delivering was grim. On 9 August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released part one of its sixth assessment report. In it, the UN body found that global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels could be upon us by 2030. With this prediction, the ambitions of the Paris Climate Agreement hang in the balance. The IPCC’s message is unequivocal: climate change is happening now and it is only through immediate, steep and sustained emissions reductions that catastrophe might be avoided. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the report a “code red for humanity”. 

Efforts to combat climate change will now need to redouble. But in this global campaign, few would regard Australia as a reliable ally. A report published in July on 193 countries’ progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals awarded Australia a score of only 10 out of 100 for climate action: the lowest awarded for any country. Australia’s high levels of exported greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use per capita, plus its failure to make progress on implementing an effective price on emissions, earned the country its rock bottom ranking. It has not helped Australia’s standing that the country still conspicuously lacks a national commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050. And with the IPCC’s latest findings that urgent action in this decade is imperative, Australia’s unwillingness to update its 2030 emissions reduction targets since they were set in 2015 reads as defiance.

In commentary on Australia’s “climate wars”, the IPCC report now dominates: will it deal a decisive blow to climate policy stagnation as COP26 — the next UN Climate Change Conference — approaches in November? In the shadow of the IPCC report, it is easy to overlook other pertinent developments of the past few months. In July, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef narrowly avoided being classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site “in danger” primarily due to the threat posed by climate change. About the same time, Australia’s Federal Court declared that the Environment Minister Susan Ley, when determining whether to approve a coal mine project, owed a duty of care to avoid causing harm to children in Australia arising from emissions of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere. The minister has appealed, but the Federal Government has since been hit with further lawsuits challenging its decisions for failing to take climate change into account, including in relation to a forest logging agreement and a gas exploration project

Amidst this flurry of activity, one milestone reached in international law went relatively unnoticed. But perhaps in time, this significant development may come to focus minds in Canberra and around the world on the necessity for climate action. 

Read More

What does it take to violate Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty: Looking to Artemis for the celestial answer – Manasa S Venkatachalam

The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies of 1967, also known as the Outer Space Treaty (OST), has long emphasised the need to use outer space for peaceful purposes, particularly when it comes to celestial bodies like the Moon. Along these lines, it becomes important to note the spreading international acceptance of the Artemis Accords (Accords) with Australia being one of the first to sign back in 2019 and most recently, Brazil becoming the first South American nation to sign. The objective of this international effort is to promote utilisation of space resources, particularly the recovery of resources from the surface or subsurface of celestial bodies like the Moon and Mars and other objects like asteroids and comets (Section 10 of the Accords). 

In this context, there could arise a situation where these resources are applied for military purposes, which then brings up the question as to the legality of such use. Thus, is important to understand what exactly the term “peaceful” means in the context of the OST and existing customary international law (CIL).

Read More

Event: International Criminal Law: Practitioner Perspectives, 16 September 2021

The International Law Association (Australian Branch) is pleased to announce its third in a series of online lunch-time panels showcasing the work of early career international lawyers.

This event follows the first panel on “Intersections of International Environmental Law with National Jurisdictions” on 22 July 2021 and the second panel on “Armed Conflict, Technology and Human Rights” on 26 August 2021. Recordings are made of these panels and will be made available in the members’ section of the ILA (AB)’s website in due course.

This third panel is focused on “International Criminal Law: Practitioner Perspectives” and features speakers Pranamie Mandalawatta (Australian Red Cross) and Liam MacAndrews (Nyman Gibson Miralis Defence Lawyers) speaking on ‘Corporate Liability for War Crimes under Australian Law’ and Shannon Torrens presenting on ‘Defending A President: The Charles Taylor Case at the Special Court for Sierra Leone’. The event will be chaired by Dr Chris Ward SC (St James Hall Chambers) and will feature commentator The Honourable Justice Mark Ierace (Supreme Court of New South Wales). The panel will be held online on Thursday 16 September 2021 from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm AEST. Registration is free and through Eventbrite.

The final panel in this series will be held on 7 October and consist of an exploration of International Investment Law. It will feature Caitlyn McKenzie (ANU College of Law) presenting on ‘Improving access to Foreign Direct Investment for Pacific Island Countries: Pursuit of International Investment Agreements from a development perspective’ and Zhenyu (Zoe) Xiao (UNSW Law and Justice) speaking on ‘International law and domestic institutions: rethinking the evolution of China’s investor-state dispute settlement policymaking’. The event will be chaired by Associate Professor Jeanne Huang (University of Sydney Law School) and feature commentator Dr Jonathan Bonnitcha (UNSW Law and Justice).

A flyer for this third panel is included below.

Read More

Book Review: Is cyber-election interference a violation of the right to self-determination? Jens Ohlin’s ‘Election Interference’ provides a valuable correction to the debate – Robert Clarke

With the deluge of spurious ‘election fraud’ claims following the 2020 US Presidential Election, the genuine issue of foreign election interference has been somewhat overshadowed. However, international lawyers should not lose sight of this emerging threat which, accelerated by new technologies, is capable of forming the basis of genuine ‘election fraud’ in the years to come.  Despite much debate in the years following the Russian disinformation campaign in 2016, international lawyers have yet to arrive at a consensus as to if, and how, international law can evolve to deal with the challenges of modern election interference.  In his timely new book ‘Election Interference’, Jens Ohlin puts aside rhetoric of ‘acts of war’ frequently invoked by sabre-rattling pundits and politicians, to investigate a number of alternative doctrines of international law that could provide the answers to these questions. This book review will consider Ohlin’s approach to the two key doctrines of international law he discusses with respect to the 2016 Russian interference campaign: non-intervention and self-determination. 


Unlike other international law scholars, (see for example Michael Schmitt and Ido Kilovaty) Ohlin is sceptical that cyber-election interference constitutes a violation of the doctrine of non-intervention. To constitute a violation of this principle, interference must first interfere with a state’s sovereign domaine réservé, and second involve an element of coercion [205]. That the conduct of elections is part of a State’s domaine réservé is accepted in a general sense, as well as in the context of cyber-interference (Rule 26 Commentary [20]). However, Ohlin questions whether cyber-election interference has ‘the essence’ of the principle of non-intervention, that of coercion.

The difficulty with applying the doctrine of coercion to cyber-interference operations like that conducted by Russian individuals in 2016 according to Ohlin, is identifying who exactly who is being coerced. It cannot be said that the state itself is actually being coerced, because the results of the election will ultimately still reflect the views of its citizens, irrespective of whether they are improperly influenced by foreign meddling. Cyber-influence operations are therefore often characterised as ‘distortion rather than coercion’. 

Ohlin describes the failure of other international law scholars to properly reckon with this as reflecting a ‘teleological’ approach in the face of an ‘absence of evidence’, writing ‘information operations are not coercive simply because one hopes they are’.

Read More

Call for Submissions: Australian International Law Journal

The Australian International Law Journal (AILJ), published by the International Law Association (Australian Branch), is calling for papers on topics of public or private international law for its forthcoming volume. 

Papers should range from between 6,000 and 12,000 words. Case notes (2,000-3,000 words) and book reviews (1,000 words) within the areas of public or private international law are also welcome. 

The AILJ offers established and developing scholars the opportunity to publish high quality refereed scholarship on topics of public and private international law. The ILA is a global organization, which plays a pre-eminent role in the progressive development of international law. From a modest beginning in 1983 as Australian International Law News, the AILJ has become a peer-reviewed law journal of international standing. 

Papers on any topic of public or private international law should be submitted by email to the Editor in Chief at The deadline for submissions is 1 October 2021. Accepted submissions will be published in Volume 28 of the AILJ. 

More information on the submission of articles, notes and reviews is available in the AILJ Guidelines for Authors. Further information on the Journal and how to subscribe is available on the ILA (AB)’s website.