Philippines: the Government should reconsider withdrawal from ICC

The Government of the Philippines should reconsider and reverse its hasty and ill-conceived decision to withdraw as a State Party to the Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court, the ICJ said today.

In a letter transmitted to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the ICJ questioned the stated basis for the decision to withdraw from the Rome statute, to which it has been party since 2011, and to commit itself to effectively investigate the numerous allegations of widespread and systematic extrajudicial killings and bring to justice those responsible.

The ICC has jurisdiction over certain serious crimes under international law including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

“The Philippine government’s submitted justifications for withdrawing from the ICC are a litany of poorly thought out pseudo-legal arguments and self-serving statements that focus on President Duterte’s fear and resentment at facing questions for the horrific campaign of extrajudicial executions that his government has explicitly condoned,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Secretary General.

“At any rate, despite what the Philippine president may wish, withdrawal from the ICC will not prevent the Prosecutor from conducting a preliminary examination because the acts complained of were committed prior to the date when the withdrawal becomes effective,” he added.

Under the Rome Statute, withdrawal as a State Party takes effect only after one year from notification of the UN Secretary General, unless a later date is specified.

The ICJ’s letter to President Duterte highlights some of the legal and factual errors contained in the Philippine government’s official submission of the justifications for the withdrawal.

The letter points out that the launch of a preliminary examination does not violate the principle of presumption of innocence or due process.

In order to proceed with a full investigation, if the Prosecutor determines it is warranted, a pre-trial chamber of judges would still have to give approval.

The letter notes the Philippine government will have the opportunity to argue that it is willing to investigate and prosecute, and that its domestic processes are sufficient to address the crimes alleged.

Since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in June 2016, there has been a notable increase in the number of killings of persons allegedly involved in the trade and sale of illegal drugs.

It has been alleged that the number of persons killed has reached to the thousands, and that many of these killings were unlawful, amounting to extrajudicial executions.

“President Duterte has very publicly stated that he will block investigations into the conduct of his government and its role in the killings of thousands of people; he has insulted and threatened United Nations officials; he has bullied and belittled domestic critics and civil society. He’s now trying to avoid accountability under international law, too,” Zarifi said.

“There is no indication so far of a genuine, thorough, prompt, impartial, and independent investigations of these crimes in the Philippines, and the apparent unwillingness of the authorities to do so is one of the grounds on which the ICC can and should assert jurisdiction to undertake its own investigation,” he further said.

“Instead of engaging in legal maneuvers to facilitate impunity, President Duterte must unequivocally denounce extrajudicial killings, whether of alleged criminals or of any person in the Philippines, and allow a proper investigation of these crimes,” he added.

The ICJ calls on the Government to take immediate and effective measures to address the thousands of cases of extrajudicial killings in observance of its domestic laws and to respect its obligations under human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Investigations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings should be geared towards establishing the crime and bringing perpetrators to justice.


Emerlynne Gil, Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t +662 619 8499 (ext. 206) ; e: emerlynne.gil(a)

Philippines-ICJ Letter ICC Withdrawal-Advocacy-Open letters-2018-ENG (full letter, in PDF)

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