BEIJING — President Rodrigo Duterte will withdraw the Philippines from the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to a statement released to reporters in Manila on Wednesday.
The move comes about a month after the ICC opened a preliminary examination into thousands of deaths linked to his violent campaign against suspected drug users and dealers.
A preliminary examination is used to determine if there is a “reasonable basis” to proceed with an investigation — in this case into charges of crimes against humanity.
Duterte’s statement said the decision to withdraw was because of “baseless, unprecedented and outrageous attacks” by U.N. officials and an attempt by the ICC prosecutor to seek jurisdiction “in violation of due process and presumption of innocence.”
“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,” it read.
According to the Rome Statute, a state party’s withdrawal takes effect one year after the United Nations secretary general receives written notification. The statement argued that the rule does not apply because “there appears to be fraud in entering such agreement.”
A number of African countries have also announced their intention to quit the ICC, including South Africa, claiming the court is biased against Africans. The African Union passed a nonbinding resolution pushed by Kenya in 2017 urging members to withdraw.
The question of whether the ICC could or would investigate Duterte has been swirling since the early months of his presidency.
Since he was elected in 2016, an estimated 12,000 Filipinos have been killed, either shot dead in police operations with high death tolls and few witnesses or assassinated by men on motorbikes, often after being named by police.
Four months into the campaign, when the death toll stood at several thousand, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she was “deeply concerned about these alleged killings and the fact that public statements of high officials of the Republic of the Philippines seem to condone such killings.”
Duterte responded by taunting the court and the killings continued.
A year ago when a Philippine lawyer delivered a complaint to the ICC accusing the president and 11 associates of crimes against humanity, Duterte shrugged off the move.
The Philippines signed the Rome Statute in 2011, which means the court has jurisdiction for crimes within its mandate committed there. However, the court can only act if it is clear that local authorities have failed to investigate and prosecute crimes — and this will be the sticking point.
Duterte’s fast-talking spokesman, Harry Roque, has argued that local authorities can and will investigate crimes, so there is no need — or place — for the ICC to get involved.
The Philippines will “bring to bear our national criminal justice system upon those who violate our laws,” he told a gathering of ICC signatories last December.
But Duterte’s government has not made public any evidence of efforts to prosecute those implicated in drug war deaths. Instead, the president has repeatedly promised to pardon, even promote, police linked to drug war killings.
Roque’s “assertion that the Philippine government has been willing and able to investigate those deaths has simply not been true,” wrote Param-Preet Singh, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program, in a statement published Dec. 7, 2017.
“The government’s claims of its preparedness to prosecute offenders is grotesquely deceptive.”