THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – The Philippines officially withdrew from the International Criminal Court on Sunday, a year after its president called the United Nations court’s investigation of his drug war a politically motivated witch hunt.
In an announcement on social media, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson said “the president’s staunchest critics and vocal detractors are at it again lambasting the supposed withdrawal of the Philippines from the Rome Statute and necessarily from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), today, March 17, 2019.”
The country has claimed it is not a party to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC. However, the country signed the treaty in 2011, one of the 124 countries that have done so.
Duterte first floated the idea of quitting the court in 2018, but the court’s rules require 12 months’ notice before a signatory can leave. In the letter in which he signaled the country’s exit, Duterte claimed, “It is apparent that the ICC is being utilized as a political tool against the Philippines.”
The decision to leave the treaty came after the ICC said it would begin a preliminary investigation of Duterte for his role in extrajudicial killings. The court said it plans to “analyze crimes allegedly committed in this state party since at least 1 July 2016, in the context of the ‘war on drugs’ campaign launched by the government of the Philippines.”
In response to Duterte’s letter, the court stressed a “preliminary examination is not an investigation,” but rather the first step in determining whether or not an investigation is warranted.
The court can prosecute four types of offenses: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. The prosecutor of the ICC had said in 2016 the court was aware of allegations of extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the government in the Philippines which “may fall under the jurisdiction of the court if they are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population pursuant to a state policy.”
Duterte came to power in 2016 after campaigning to address the problems of drug use and drug trafficking in the Philippines. Since then, somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 people have been killed in police raids.
Additionally, Duterte has admitted killing people when he was mayor of Davao City on the southern island of Mindanao.
Duterte’s opponents claim his withdrawal is an attempt to avoid prosecution. Senator Antonio Trillanes, told The New York Times in 2016 that Duterte “cannot scare the ICC like what he does to our courts.”
While Duterte’s office said the nation’s withdrawal from the court means there’s no basis for continuing the preliminary examination, the court said the withdrawal “has no impact on ongoing proceedings or any matter which was already under consideration by the court prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective.”
The Philippines isn’t the first country to withdraw from the ICC. That distinction belongs to Burundi, which left in 2017 following an investigation into unrest and violence in the country after President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term in 2015. South Africa declared its intent to leave the same year, but was blocked by the U.N.
The United States has neither signed nor ratified the Rome Statute, and just last week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened to deny entry to any International Criminal Court investigators intending to probe the actions of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.