The Philippines said on Wednesday it is withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC) due to what President Rodrigo Duterte called “outrageous” attacks by UN officials and violations of due process by the ICC.
The decision marks an about-face by Duterte, who initially welcomed a preliminary ICC examination announced last month into a complaint, filed by a Philippine lawyer, that accuses him and top officials of crimes against humanity, committed during a war on drugs that has killed thousands of people.
A 15-page statement, dated March 13 and not signed by Duterte, said the withdrawal from the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, was “effective immediately”.
That was confirmed separately by Duterte‘s spokesman and his legal counsel, who both said the ICC’s examination was part of a plot by the president’s enemies.
Duterte‘s statement said the withdrawal was because of “baseless, unprecedented and outrageous attacks” by UN officials, and what he said was an attempt by the ICC prosecutor to seek jurisdiction over him “in violation of due process and presumption of innocence”.
ICC spokesman Fadi el Abdallah referred most questions to the court’s prosecutors, who could not immediately be reached for comment.
Duterte‘s war on drugs has caused international alarm and fierce criticism from some UN rapporteurs and officials, including UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who on Friday said Duterte should submit himself for a psychiatric examination.
The maverick former mayor has sparred relentlessly with critics and refused to change his approach, or accept that police may have executed suspected dealers, as activists allege.
Police deny allegations of murder and cover-ups and say they killed about 4,100 drug dealers in shootouts. Police say they have no ties to armed men responsible for the deaths of about 2,300 drug users and peddlers.
Duterte, who is hugely popular among Filipinos, has no love for the ICC, calling it “useless” and “hypocritical”.
He at first dared the ICC to indict him, saying he was willing to rot in jail for his people. He then said he would prefer a firing squad to prison.
He has recently changed his tune, telling security forces not to cooperate should there be any international investigation. He last week said the ICC would “not in a million years” have jurisdiction.
The ICC’s preliminary examination into the complaint seeks to establish whether crimes have taken place. Such a process typically takes years.
Jude Sabio, the Philippine lawyer who filed the ICC complaint last year, said Duterte‘s move was predictable, futile and designed to appeal to his base.
“Looks like they are really afraid. Why? They feel that this will proceed to an investigation,” Sabio told Reuters.
“His statement is only good for politics, just so his supporters can hear that he is withdrawing from the ICC. But it will have no binding legal effect.”
According to ICC rules, the withdrawal becomes effective one year after receipt of the notification. Duterte and the Philippines are under the jurisdiction of the ICC as a result of being a member, and pulling out would not change that jurisdiction retroactively.
The ICC can only intervene in a member state when that state is unable or unwilling to carry out investigations and prosecute suspected perpetrators. The Philippines says its legal processes are functional and independent.
Senator Antonio Trillanes, who filed supplementary communications to support Sabio’s complaint, said the withdrawal was flip-flopping by Duterte, who “knows that there is no way out for him in the ICC”.
“Duterte, by withdrawing from the ICC, has practically admitted that he is guilty of the allegations filed against him,” he said in a statement.