CHR: Withdrawal from Int'l Criminal Court can be seen as 'encouraging impunity'

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Wednesday, March 14, called President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to "immediately" withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) a "significant setback" for the Philippines.

"The decision to withdraw from the ICC is an unfortunate move that constitutes a significant setback to the decades-long global effort of universal jurisdiction to ensure accountability for the most serious violations of human rights law," CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon said. 

"The Philippines has historically been at the forefront of advancing international justice and this move constitutes a reversal that will be viewed as encouraging impunity to continue," he added.

Duterte on Wednesday declared that the withdrawal would take effect immediately despite the Rome Statute explicitly saying that there should be a one-year period from the submission of a letter. The President claimed that the signing of the statute was fraudulent to begin with. (READ: Things to know about Duterte's pet peeve ICC)

Duterte said the Philippines was "made to believe that the principle of complementarity shall be observed, that the principle of due process and the presumption of innocence as mandated by our Constitution and the Rome Statue shall prevail, and that the legal requirement of publication to make the Rome Statute enforceable shall be maintained."

Gascon said the government is "grossly mistaken believing that the ICC does not have jurisdiction over events in this country." (WATCH: The International Criminal Court process)

"What it must do is to show that it is willing and able to bring all perpetrators of human rights violations to justice," he added. 

'Doesn't shut the door'

Duterte's decision comes after the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor announced it is starting a preliminary examination "following a careful, independent, and impartial review of communications and reports documenting alleged crimes" committed in the Philippines since 2016.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the withdrawal will not hinder any fight for justice for those killed under Duterte's violent war on drugs.

Government data show that at least 3,987 individuals have been killed in the police's anti-drug operations while the number of those killed vigilante-style is still highly contested – with groups estimating the figure could be more than 12,000.  

"The Philippines' intention to walk away from the ICC is unfortunate but it doesn't shut the door on the prosecutor's scrutiny of the government's horrendous track record of grave abuses," said Param-Preet Singh, associate director of HRW's International Justice Program. 

Article 127 of the Rome Statute explicitly states that criminal investigations and proceedings that have been started before the withdrawal came into effect will still continue.

Human rights group Karapatan, meanwhile, said Duterte's decision stems from his "rabid refusal to be subjected to any and all forms of investigation and scrutiny."

"The country has been made aware that the tyrant is a mere coward who plays tough with words but flinches when confronted with concrete platforms for accountability," Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.  

"This is a classic Duterte move to cheat his way out of culpability and responsibility for all the rights violations systematically committed by him and his state forces." (READ: IBP: Scrutinize Duterte decision to withdraw from Int'l Criminal Court first– Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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