Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) will not effect the probe into alleged human-rights abuses during his so-called war on drugs, according to activists.
Duterte said this week that the Philippines had withdrawn its ratification of the Rome Statute, which established the ICC.
The announcement comes five weeks after a court prosecutor said a preliminary examination had been opened on whether the thousands of drugs killings amounted to crimes against humanity.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said Duterte’s move “only exposed fear of being subjected to international scrutiny and prosecution”.
She said the 72-year-old president “may have unwittingly displayed his fear of being proven guilty”.
The senator added that it was unlawful to withdraw from the ICC and Duterte, a former lawyer, could still be held liable for “offences committed while the Philippines was signatory”.
Article 127 of the Rome Statute read “a withdrawal is effective only one year after receipt of notification”, Hontiveros said.
The thin-skinned Duterte said UN investigators were trying to “paint me as a ruthless and heartless violator of human right” and the ICC had acted prematurely by implying he would be charged with serious crimes.
Duterte’s team accused ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of violating the principle of complementarity, which states that the court can only prosecute crimes when a signatory’s judiciary was unable or unwilling to pursue prosecution. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said this was not applicable in the Philippines.
“The ICC has lost a strong ally in Asia,” Roque told the press.
He said the Philippine withdrawal from departure could be “the beginning of the end” for the ICC, as more countries departed and non-members were discouraged from joining.
Stephen Cutler, a former FBI legal adviser, said: “The ICC has jurisdiction over incidents or crimes that occurred while the state is a member.
“So, if the Philippines withdraws, it doesn’t matter because what they’re looking at are civilian deaths that occurred while the Philippines was a member.”
Human Rights Watch’s Param-Preet Singh said the ICC withdrawal required notification to the UN secretary general and took a year.
“Even then, the court can still prosecute any international crimes committed while the Philippines was still an ICC member,” Singh said, accusing Duterte of attempting to “run from justice”.
“His announcement to pull out of the ICC, which is designed to prosecute those most responsible for grave crimes, is a barefaced attempt to shield him and high-ranking officials from possible ICC prosecution,” he added.
The mass slaughter of anyone accused of drug involvement remains popular in the Philippines. Picture credit: YouTube