Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose war on drugs has resulted in the deaths of over 12,000 people allegedly using and dealing drugs, has announced that the country will withdraw from the establishing treaty of the International Criminal Court.
His statement comes about a month after the ICC launched a preliminary investigation into those deaths. Human Rights Watch has called Duterte's term a "human rights calamity," as his administration "has 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, whose term began in June 2016, promised to kill every drug dealer and user in the Philippines in his presidential campaign. Police officials and vigilantes alike have contributed to the killings.
The ICC launches investigations when a member state is unwilling to carry out investigations and prosecute suspected perpetrators themselves. Duterte claims this is not the case: "The deaths [have occurred] in the process of legitimate police operation" who didn't intend to kill, but acted in self-defense," he said.
The HRW's 2018 World Report disputes his claims.
"Police have planted guns, spent ammunition, and drug packets on victims' bodies to implicate them in drug activities," it reads. "Masked gunmen taking part in killings appeared to be working closely with police, casting doubt on government claims that most killings have been committed by vigilantes or rival drug gangs. No one has been meaningfully investigated, let alone prosecuted, for any of the 'drug war' killings."
NPR reported on the scope of Duterte's war on drugs last November:
"Inside the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has maintained support for his bloody war on drugs, despite the thousands of lives lost and criticism by human rights groups.
"Duterte has remained popular because most people in the country aren't directly affected by deadly drug war, which is mostly being waged in the inner cities.
"Since taking office last year, Duterte continues to carry out his pledge to kill every drug dealer and user in the country. Human rights groups say the deadly extra-judicial war has left more than 13,000 people dead.
"... Duterte has a much-maligned history of cracking down on drugs. When he won the presidential election last year, Duterte touted his 20 years as mayor of Davao in Mindanao in his promise to rid the country of drugs and crime. But as The Guardian reports, Davao still has the highest murder rate in the country and the second highest number of rapes.
"The scope of Duterte's vicious war in the Philippines echoes that first violent campaign in Davao. When he ordered the first death squad to target drug dealers and users in 1989, he allegedly told police officers: "Throw them in the ocean or the quarry. Make it clean. Make sure there are no traces of the bodies."
The ICC uses preliminary investigations to determine if there's "a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation pursuant to the criteria established by the Rome Statute," said ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
In Oct. 2016, Bensouda said she was "deeply concerned about these alleged killings and the fact that public statements of high officials of the Republic of the Philippines seem to condone such killings."
"An international law cannot supplant, prevail or diminish a domestic law," reads Duterte's statement. "I therefore declare and forthwith give notice, as President of the Republic of the Philippines, that the Philippines is withdrawing its ratification of the Rome Statute effective immediately."
Withdrawing from the Rome Statue doesn't let the Philippines off the hook to a more comprehensive ICC investigation or human rights abuse charges, however. "A State shall not be discharged, by reason of its withdrawal, from the obligations arising from the Rome Statute while it was a party to the Statute," reads the document's Article 127.
The same article also states that withdrawals from the Rome Statute shall take place one year or later after a state notifies the United Nations of its intent to withdraw.
"There appears to be fraud in entering such agreement," counters Duterte's statement. The president dared the ICC to jail him last month, saying, "If you haul me into a rigmarole of trial and trial, no need. Go ahead and proceed in your investigation. Find me guilty, of course. You can do that."
"Looks like they are really afraid. Why? They feel that this will proceed to an investigation," Jude Sabio, an ICC lawyer, told Reuters. The withdrawal "will have no binding legal effect," he said.
There are no strict timelines on ICC preliminary investigations, which have taken years to establish whether crimes have taken place.