FOLLOWING the Philippines formally sending to the United Nations (UN) secretary general a letter announcing its intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), President Rodrigo Duterte boldly announced he would ask other countries to do the same. The President apparently thought that, one, he exercises influence on other world leaders, specifically in southeast Asia and, two, that world leaders see the ICC like he is seeing it. But he could be in for a surprise.
Duterte is not the first to attempt to bring his country away from the ambit of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Early last year, the governments of Burundi, Gambia and South Africa moved to withdraw from the ICC following accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in these countries. The African Union (AU) later adopted a non-binding resolution telling the group’s member states to also leave the ICC.
The AU had accused the ICC of having become an instrument of neocolonialism and of overly focusing on the human rights violations committed in Africa. Duterte similarly claimed being unfairly treated by the ICC, which has opened a probe into accusations of extrajudicial killings in the intensified campaign against illegal drugs that he launched. This after a case was lodged against him in the ICC.
So what happened to the campaign by the AU for African states to withdraw from the ICC and to the withdrawal attempt by Burundi, Gambia and South Africa?
In December last year, Africa Center for Strategic Studies (africacenter.org) posted on its website an interesting article titled, “What’s Next for Africa and the International Criminal Court?” The article, written by Paul Nantulya, discussed in detail Africa’s relationship with the ICC, including the attempt to withdraw by some African countries from the Rome Statute.
It noted a “pushback” from the AU call. For example, with the assumption of a new government in Gambia in January last year, its democratically elected president Adam Barrow reversed the previous order of his predecessor to withdraw from the ICC. Meanwhile, in February 2017, South Africa’s High Court ruled against the ICC withdrawal noting it was “inconsistent with the country’s constitutional principles” and violated procedures, as its Parliament was not consulted.
Only Burundi’s withdrawal remains but that has not prevented the ICC from opening a formal probe into alleged crimes against humanity in that country.
As for the AU’s call for mass withdrawal, that didn’t happen. A number of countries have also voiced their opposition to the move, like Burkina Faso, Botswana, Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zambia. They see the ICC as an extension of “their commitment to greater accountability for gross violations of human rights and international crimes.”
This just shows that a Duterte campaign for other countries to withdraw from the ICC won’t work. His influence is not the strong among other world leaders and countries act based on their own interests.