PHILIPPINES President Rodrigo Duterte has announced that the Southeast Asian nation will remove itself from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a month after prosecutors from the Hague-based court announced they would be launching a preliminary investigation into his controversial drug war.
In a long statement dated March 13, Duterte said that Philippines would be removing its ratification of the Rome Statute immediately due to “unprecedented and outrageous attacks on my person … engineered by the officials of the United Nations” and a supposed “violation of due process”.
The announcement of the investigation by the ICC was premature and implied he had already been charged for serious crimes, Duterte said.
The president also said UN special rapporteurs – likely referring to Agnes Callamard the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings – had been undertaking a “concerted effort” to paint him as a “ruthless and heartless” violator of human rights.
He has long publicly attacked Callamard, referring to her as a “son of a bitch”, “stupid”, “skinny” and “malnourished”.
In February the International Criminal Court (ICC) officially announced it was launching a preliminary investigation into the Duterte administration’s war on drugs. ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the body would be looking into extrajudicial killings in the Philippines as part of anti-drug operations.
Duterte’s signature drug war began in June 2016 and has been widely condemned by rights groups, political opponents and the Catholic church in the Philippines.
Human Rights Watch estimated earlier in 2018 that more than 12,000 people have been killed by police and plain clothed gunmen since the anti-drug campaign began. Official statistics put the number of dead at around 4000.
Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that Duterte was simply trying to “run from justice” by pulling out of the Rome Statute and was “a barefaced attempt to shield him and high-ranking officials from possible ICC prosecution”.
Amnesty International Asia Director James Gomez said that “if the Philippines truly believed that the ICC did not have jurisdiction over crimes committed in the country, they should challenge that in the proper way – which is at the ICC. Instead, they have taken the cowardly option of trying to evade justice.”
Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano denied that it was attempt to avoid prosecution by the ICC, however. “To prove that it’s not a way of evading or getting away from consequences or the jurisdiction of ICC … even if we withdraw, our actions back when we’re a member are still covered,” he said as quoted by the state-run Philippine News Agency.
A month ago, Duterte declared: “do not worry about me. I can face the ICC. If they want to indict me and convict me, fine. I will gladly do it for my country.” He also said he would “love” to be executed by firing squad if found guilty by the ICC. Now, however, the president has changed his tune.
“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,” said Duterte, who claimed the ICC was exhibiting a “clear bias” against himself and his administration.
Filipino lawyer Jude Sabio lodged a complaint with the ICC last April claiming that Duterte had “repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously” committed crimes against humanity. The ICC has only publicly indicted 41 people from thousands of complaints since its inception in 2002.