The Philippines officially pulled away from the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Sunday. Manila’s disengagement took place a year after the U.N. Secretariat received written request by the Philippines announcing their decision to exit from the exclusive war crimes tribunal in the world.
So far, the Philippines is the second country in the world to depart from the ICC. Burundi came first with its official abandonment of the Rome Statute, the constitutive agreement of the ICC, in October 2017. The Rome Statute entered into force on 1 July 2002. More than 124 countries have ratified the agreement, which still lacks universal endorsement.
State Withdrawals from the Rome Statute
Under the Rome State, countries are eligible to leave from the ICC mandate by writtenly informing the U.N. Secretariat a year before their decision takes place. Signatory members nonetheless who opt out to exit from ICC premises are still eligible to be held accountable for cases pending final decision before their established withdrawal date. This is an important development in the Philippines case given that Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda initiated proceedings within the ICC in February 2018 against the Manila government. The case revolves around the renowned war on drugs case which begun when Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte assumed the country’s leadership.
The ICC proceedings examines allegations about the drug crackdown operations that President Duterte has authorised in the Philippines since his election in June 2016. Philippine security authorities claim that more than 5.176 drug users and smugglers who evaded arrest lost their lives but human rights organisations triple the number of casualties. Amnesty International Director Nicholas Bequelin argued on the ICC proceedings against Manila that ‘Filipinos bravely challenging the war on drugs or seeking justice for their loved ones need international support to help them end this climate of fear, violence and impunity.’
ICC Declining Record
The Philippines’ withdrawal represents another major blow to the mandate of the ICC which is currently faced with a series of legitimacy challenges. The Philippines’ withdrawal follows in sequence two failed decisions including the acquittal in June 2018 of the former Vice President of Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) Jean-Pierre Bemba. The second acquittal took place in January 2019 when the ICC released former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo. Both men were convicted of crimes against humanity. These judicial decisions have incited a wave of resistance in the African continent with a number of countries including Gambia, Kenya, South Africa and Zambia expressing their desire to remove from the ICC mandate. The Court is blamed by African states for a biased status towards the continent’s political and military leaders.