Duterte’s threat to withdraw the Philippines from the International Criminal Court (ICC) should be seen as a rejection of the Western liberal democratic model of governance, according to Christine Schwöbel-Patel, a senior lecturer in law at the University of Liverpool.
During a speech in Davao City on Thursday the Philippine president described the court as “useless” and said the institution suffered from prosecutorial selectivity, unfairly focusing on “small” states, such as the Philippines, and turning a blind eye to war crimes committed by Western nations.
Schwöbel-Patel told Southeast Asia Globe on Friday: “The symbolic effect of a withdrawal is of great political significance during a time in which there is a notable shift in global power distribution, growing disenchantment with the neoliberal project and its institutions, and a connected rise in national populism.”
On Saturday, Duterte further fanned the flames of his public yearning for a new world order when he lamented to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a private meeting that Western nations “are into so much hypocrisy”.
The president’s threat to withdraw came just one month after the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, released a statement affirming the court’s right to prosecute any individuals involved in alleged extra-judicial killings during the Philippines’ ongoing war on drugs, and a single day after Russia announced its intention to pull out of the court.
“[Duterte] agrees with other states that withdrew from the ICC that the decisions of the court are usually prejudicial [when investigating] poorer countries and countries not allied with the United States,” said Ramon Beleno III, chair of Ateneo de Davao University’s Political Science and History Department.
“A withdrawal from a strong and influential country like Russia is an affirmation that the ICC has lost its impartiality and has been influenced by some major powers. But I think [Duterte’s] decision to consider leaving the ICC was concretised by pronouncements of some members of said court,” explained Beleno.
Making bold statements has become a key theme of Duterte’s short-lived presidency, but Beleno said it was not yet clear whether Duterte would follow through on his latest proclamation.
“However, we can be certain that he will push through with this if agencies of the United Nations do not stop criticising him without conducting proper investigations into alleged extra-judicial killings in the Philippines,” he said.
If the Philippines were to withdraw, Schwöbel-Patel believes it could add to the momentum for a switch to regional courts and domestic approaches to criminal justice.
“Indeed, Southeast Asia has been involved in so-called hybrid criminal justice projects, which blend domestic and international elements, such as seen with the ECCC [Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge tribunal],” she said. “For better or worse, the international criminal justice project itself has much support, even if the ICC’s leading role in this project is increasingly questionable.”