Carpio joins team suing Xi Jinping for crimes against humanity in the South China Sea

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FROM L TO R: Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 16) — Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio is joining the team suing Chinese officials including President Xi Jinping for illegal incursions in the South China Sea before the International Criminal Court.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario announced Wednesday that Carpio, an expert on the law of the sea, will serve as lawyer in charging Xi for crimes against humanity for Beijing's illegal moves in the disputed waters.

Carpio retired ​from the Supreme Court in October 2019. Prior to that, he was a key member of the panel which haled Manila's complaint against China's sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea to an international tribunal in The Hague, which the country won in July 2016. 

In March 2019, Del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales filed a complaint before the ICC against Xi, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and former Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua over near-permanent environmental destruction in the West Philippine Sea, a portion of the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines as part of its exclusive economic zone.

The filing said China's encroachment on islands in the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, resulted in "environmentally destructive and illegal reclamations and artificial island building activities" in Scarborough Shoal and the Kalayaan Islands and deprived Filipino fishermen from livelihood as the Chinese blocked them from casting their nets in contested waters under Xi's reign.

READ: Gov't can seize China-owned assets to settle ₱200B marine damage in West PH Sea – Del Rosario

The group also wanted Beijing's top officials to answer for "atrocities" such as the reported swarming of Chinese militia vessels in the country's territorial sea.

Senior executives of China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), a state-run corporation, are also being charged for carrying out illegal reclamation activities. CCCC and its subsidiaries have recently been blacklisted by the United States for these incursions in the disputed waters.

However, the ICC flagged late last year that the case filed against Chinese officials may not be under its jurisdiction. Del Rosario and Carpio-Morales said the fight is not over.

READ: Carpio-Morales on ICC case vs Xi: 'This is just the beginning'

"If it is shown that the crimes described in the communication occurred not only in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines, but also within its territorial sea or landmass, the ICC has basis to proceed with our communication," Del Rosario said during a forum, touting the former Supreme Court magistrate as someone who "will surely bolster our efforts in the ICC."

Carpio-Morales added that their team has submitted a response to the ICC this week to push the case forward, where they point out that the massive illegal reclamation and artificial island-building approved by Chinese officials in the Spratlys. She said among those turned into artificial islands is Subi Reef, which is within the territorial sea of (or within12 nautical miles off) Pag-asa –– an island the Philippines considers part of its territory and which is permanently occupied by a Filipino community.

"Chinese officials continue to enforce its hostile blockade within the territorial sea of Scarborough Shoal that prevents Filipino fishermen from pursuing their livelihood," Del Rosario added. "These fishermen live along the coast of Luzon and rely on their fish catch to survive. The effects of these Chinese criminal actions therefore extend to the Philippines’ coast of Luzon."

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They also cited the ramming and sinking of Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver near Recto Bank in June 2019 as another incident that occurred within the country's EEZ, which should be covered by the ICC as the crime was committed against a Philippine-registered vessel. China directly put in danger 22 Filipino fishermen ​left to drown at sea until a Vietnamese boat came to their rescue, Del Rosario added. 

The team argued that the facts of the case show that ICC has "strong basis" to proceed with the cases filed against China's leaders, saying they want to hold Xi and his men criminally liable and imprisoned under the ICC statute. If accepted by ICC, Del Rosario warned that warrants of arrest against Xi and Yi could ban them from visiting ICC state parties like South Korea, Japan, and Australia.

"They planned it, they implemented it, and they continue to commit their crimes against Filipinos and all the coastal inhabitants of the South China Sea," he added.

READ: Most Filipinos back ICC case vs. Xi – SWS

The Philippines has been citing the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea in insisting its control in the West Philippine Sea.