Who needs the ICC?
In the global community, there’s a general consent that all nations must be treated with equal respect. That’s not always the case. When the United States withdrew from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, just two years after President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute in 2000, there was no adverse reaction from global observers. In a letter delivered to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the US government said: “This is to inform you, in connection with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court…the United States does not intend to become a party to the treaty. Accordingly, the United States has no legal obligation arising from its signature.”
Here’s another case: In 2016 Russia withdrew from the International Criminal Court under a directive signed by President Vladimir Putin. The Russian government said the ICC had “failed to meet the expectations to become a truly independent, authoritative international tribunal.” It described the ICC as “ineffective,” adding that the tribunal passed only four sentences and spent over a billion dollars during the 14 years of the court’s work. Russia also criticized the International Criminal Court’s handling of the country’s five-day conflict with neighboring Georgia in 2008, saying, “We can hardly trust the ICC in such a situation.” Still, no reaction from global observers.
On March 13, 2018, President Duterte announced that the Philippines is withdrawing from the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, because of “baseless, unprecedented and outrageous attacks” by UN officials, and ICC actions that he said failed to follow due process and presumption of innocence. Duterte said: “There appears to be a concerted effort on the part of the UN special rapporteurs to paint me as a ruthless and heartless violator of human rights who allegedly caused thousands of extrajudicial killings.”
Duterte was outraged by an ICC prosecutor’s announcement last month that a preliminary examination was under way into an accusation that the President and some top officials had committed crimes against humanity in line with the government’s war on drugs. The Chief Executive said the ICC’s examination was premature, and “effectively created the impression that I am to be charged…for serious crimes falling under its jurisdiction.”
Ambassador Teddy Locsin Jr., Philippine permanent representative to the United Nations, said the decision to withdraw was a “principled stand against those who politicize and weaponize human rights.” The withdrawal takes effect one year after the secretary-general receives notification, according to ICC rules.
As if on cue, international jurists and activists criticized the President’s decision to withdraw from the ICC. They said the withdrawal does not insulate Duterte from a possible indictment, as the ICC’s jurisdiction retroactively covers the period during which a country was a member of the court.
Amnesty International called the withdrawal “misguided” and “cowardly.” The secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists said: “This is an embarrassing attempt to create legal cover, and a self-serving effort to avoid accountability and place himself above Philippine and international law.”
O-Gon Kwon of South Korea, the president of the ICC’s member assembly, said he regretted the Philippine government’s decision. Kwon encouraged the Philippines to remain a member and “engage in dialogue” rather than withdrawing, which, he said, would hurt the court’s efforts to punish war crimes and crimes against humanity. “The ICC needs the strong support of the international community to ensure its effectiveness. I encourage the Philippines to remain as a party to the Rome Statute,” he said in a statement.