By Prarthana Mitra
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced his decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) a month after the judicial body launched an investigation on his crusade on drugs. Duterte is being held responsible for more than 12,000 deaths across the country since his election in 2016 and the subsequent launch of his ‘drug war’.
Trial of the “warlord” president
The Hague-based tribunal’s probe has been looking into what has been touted as a “human rights calamity” by the Human Rights Watch (HRW). Duterte has been accused of encouraging the extrajudicial killings of civilians allegedly dealing or using drugs, at the hands of police personnel and vigilante groups. The HRW investigation also highlighted that Duterte and his administration have “rejected all domestic and international calls for accountability for these abuses, and instead has denied any government responsibility for the thousands of drug war deaths.”
Duterte, who came to power in 2016, had promised a violent crackdown on the country’s drug problems in his presidential campaign, by eviscerating all agents who were responsible for it. In a press conference shortly after his election, Duterte said he would be “happy to slaughter” drug addicts, and he has lived up to his promise. Over the two years since coming to power, drug war-related deaths have risen sharply.
The ICC announced in February a preliminary inquiry into the situation to determine whether an official investigation is needed. Despite the loss of innumerable lives and vehement criticism from human rights activists, the fact that public statements by the country’s highest officials seem to condone and continue supporting such killings was another major point of concern for ICC prosecutors.
Does ICC have real jurisdiction in this case?
The ICC is meant to be a “court of last resort”, a place to try authoritarian regimes and dictators who cannot be brought to justice domestically. Crimes tried in the ICC include genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and war crimes, and the body is not intended to replace a national justice system.
Duterte claims his drug war does not fall into these categories, calling the deaths lawful, or in some cases, acts of self-defence. “An international law cannot supplant, prevail or diminish a domestic law,” said Duterte in a statement announcing the withdrawal of Philippines from the ratification of the Rome Statute.
Panelo distributed copies of President Duterte's unsigned statement on the PH withdrawal of its ratification of the Rome Statute pic.twitter.com/Fm6Bx3MMn1
— Pia Gutierrez (@pia_gutierrez) March 14, 2018
According to the treaty, however, withdrawals from the Rome Statute shall only take place one year or later after a state notifies the United Nations Secretary-General of its intent to withdraw. Moreover, if the ICC’s preliminary inquiries find evidence of crimes against humanity in the Philippines, the country’s hasty withdrawal from the statute will not exempt Duterte from being tried at the International Court of Justice.
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