Rodrigo Duterte is to withdraw the Philippines from the international criminal court after it opened a crimes against humanity investigation into his brutal war on drugs.
In a lengthy statement, the Philippines president accused the ICC and the UN of a crusade against him, denouncing what he described as “baseless, unprecedented and outrageous attacks on my person”.
“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 [the treaty that established the ICC] effective immediately,” said Duterte.
The ICC announced last month it was investigating allegations that Duterte had committed crimes against humanity in his war on drugs, which has killed an estimated 8,000 people since he took office in May 2016.
Duterte initially said he welcomed the chance to defend his name. But on Wednesday he said the ICC had shown a “brazen ignorance of the law” and claimed that the Rome statute was fraudulently implemented in the Philippines to begin with and therefore not “effective or enforceable”.
Philippine politicians met the announcement with scorn and anger. Congressman Antonio Tino said the move 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”. Tino added: “Saving his own skin has taken precedence over the long-term commitment made by the Philippines state to human rights.”
Kabataan party representative Sarah Elago said it showed that “Duterte intends to impose his fascist and tyrannical tendencies even against international critics”.
“Only the guilty become too eager to run away from prosecution,” Elago added. “If indeed he wants to prove his innocence, what better platform than a court?”
Relations between the Philippines and the international community have become increasingly antagonistic in recent weeks. Last week, the department of justice included a UN special rapporteur on a list of people declared to be communist terrorists. In response, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said Duterte “needs to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric examination”.
In his statement on Monday, Duterte said Hussein’s comments were clear evidence of “international bias” and that the ICC was “being utilised as a political tool against the Philippines”.
He also described the ICC’s inquiry – which involves looking into a 77-page report submitted to it last year that allegedly documents Duterte’s crimes against humanity going back to 1988 when he was mayor of Davao – as “unduly and maliciously created”.
When the Philippines ratified the Rome statute in 2011 – nine years after it came into force – it was seen as a big step forward for human rights in Asia. The country’s withdrawal will be seen as a blow for international accountability in the region. The ICC, based in The Hague, is the world’s only permanent international tribunal that looks into war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Duterte has made his contempt for the ICC well-known in the past, calling it “bullshit”, “hypocritical” and “useless”, but in his statement on Wednesday, he went further, accusing the court of violating its own due process and depriving him of the right of innocence until proven guilty.
Should the ICC’s preliminary inquiries find evidence of crimes against humanity, the Philippines’ sudden withdrawal from the statute would not protect Duterte from being put on trial. A country’s withdrawal from the ICC takes effect a year after the UN has received the application and article 127 of the Rome statute specifies that “withdrawal shall not affect any cooperation with the court in connection with criminal investigations”.
There are 139 countries signed up to the Rome statute, but with some powerful exceptions. The US signed the treaty in 2000 but never ratified it, citing concerns over sovereignty, similarly with Russia. Israel signed it for a short period but also never ratified it into law.
Should the UN accept Duterte’s withdrawal, it would make the Philippines only the second country to withdraw from the Rome statute, following Burundi in 2017. South Africa attempted to leave in 2016, but its withdrawal was revoked by the UN.