President Duterte has announced that the Philippines is withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC), a month after it launched an investigation against him.
The president cited “baseless, unprecedented and outrageous attacks” against him and his administration.
“I therefore declare and forthwith give notice, as President of the Republic of the Philippines, that the Philippines is withdrawing its ratification of the Rome Statute effective immediately,” he said in a statement.
The Philippines signed up to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, in 2011.
Founded in 2002, the court can prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling.
Last month, the ICC announced that it would begin a preliminary examination on alleged extrajudicial killings associated with the president’s bloody drug war.
A defiant president said said last week that “not in a million years” would the ICC have jurisdiction to look into the allegations filed at the court by lawyer Jude Sabio.
“The acts committed by me are neither genocide nor war crimes. Neither it is a crime of aggression or a crime against humanity,” the president said in his statement.
“The deaths occurring in the process of a legitimate police operation lacked the intent to kill. The self-defence employed by the police officers when their lives became endangered by the violent resistance of the suspects is a justifying circumstance under our criminal law hence do not incur criminal liability.”
He also renewed his criticism of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein and UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard.
“Coupled with the implication of culpability that the preliminary examination by the prosecutor Fatou Besouda unduly and maliciously created, it is apparent that the ICC is being utilised as a political tool against the Philippines,” he said.
“Given that the ICC shows a propensity for failing to give due respect to the State Parties of the Rome Statute and that there is clear bias on the part of the UN against the Philippines, the Philippines may very well consider withdrawing from the Rome Statute.”
By withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the ICC, the president is following in the footsteps of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and also The Gambia, which cited racism against “people of colour, especially Africans” as a reason for leaving. South Africa also withdrew in 2016 following criticism that it hosted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir at an African Union summit, despite him facing an ICC arrest warrant over alleged war crimes.
The president’s decision has been widely criticised by human rights advocates and his political foes.
Among them was Congressman Antonio Tinio, who said the withdrawal the was “utterly self-serving and driven by sheer panic at the prospect of a trial before the ICC for crimes against humanity related to his murderous war on drugs.”
He added: “However, President Duterte won’t save himself from ICC investigation by withdrawing the Philippines as a State Party to the Rome Statute.”
The lawmaker pointed to Article 127 of the statute which states that any withdrawal “shall come into effect one year after receipt of notice.” It further provides that “a State shall not be discharged, by reason of its withdrawal, from the obligations arising from this Statute while it was a Party to the Statute.”
He said: “In short, since the ICC has already commenced with proceedings regarding President Duterte’s war on drugs, it has the authority to proceed and the Philippine government has the obligation to cooperate with an investigation, regardless of the notice of withdrawal.
“Whether he likes it or not, he will be held accountable.”
Congressman Carlos Isagani Zarate likewise slammed the withdrawal as “ominous” and a “grave setback to human rights and accountability”.
“President Duterte’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute is intended to escape accountability by present and even future officials for crimes committed against the people and humanity. This is ominous of an even worse human rights situation in the country,” he said.
“For all the bluster of the present administration in the manner it launched its bloody wars, this withdrawal also means that it is gravely petrified of the long arm of the law and accountability.”
However, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo has maintained that withdrawal from the ICC puts the president beyond its reach. He said: “How can you examine when the state party is no longer a member, has withdrawn?
“They can do what they want but as far as we are concerned, we have ceased to be a member of the Rome Statute.”