Philippines Withdraws from International Criminal Court

The Philippines officially withdrew from the International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 17. One year ago, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte announced that his country was leaving the ICC. Yet, under ICC rules, the departure could take effect only twelve month after the initial announcement.

President’s Duterte decision to opt out of the ICC was spurred by the court’s intention to investigate extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. In April 2017, lawyer Jude Sabio filed a complaint to the ICC against Duterte and 11 officials. The complaint identifies Duterte as being responsible for extrajudicial executions that took place both during Duterte’s Presidency and his 25-year tenure as mayor of the city of Davao.  In August 2018, families of eight victims of the ‘War on Drugs’  filed a second complaint to the ICC accusing Duterte of extrajudicial executions in the ongoing ‘war on drugs’ in which, according to The Washington Post, 5,000 people have been killed since December 2016. To pre-empt criminal persecutions, Duterte decided to have his country exit the ICC.

US President Donald Trump’s overt dissatisfaction with the ICC may have emboldened Duterte. Last year, US National Security Advisor John Bolton said that the U.S. would not co-operate with the ICC investigation of U.S. troops’ alleged abuses in Afghanistan. Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. would not issue visas to ICC staff members investigating these crimes. Further, according to leaked transcripts of a phone conversation between Trump and Duterte from May 2017, the US President praised the Philippines’ ‘War on Drugs.’

The Philippines is the second country to withdraw from the ICC, after Burundi opted out in 2017. Taken together, the U.S.’s open disavowal of the court and the Philippines’ and Burundi’s departures do not bode well for this international institution, first established in 2002.

The recent developments also have adverse implications for the protection of human rights in the Philippines. Because local courts have so far refrained from investigating extrajudicial killings, the ICC was seen as the only viable channel for holding the government and police accountable. However, with the Philippines’ departure, this option is no longer tenable.