Russia dealt the International Criminal Court a fresh blow Wednesday as the court’s top officials urged nations to support the tribunal hit by a wave of unprecedented defections.
Moscow has never ratified the world’s only permanent war crimes court, but in a heavily symbolic move on the opening day of the ICC’s annual meeting, it said it was formally withdrawing its signature to the tribunal’s founding Rome Statute.
“The court did not live up to the hopes associated with it and did not become truly independent,” Russia’s foreign ministry said, describing its work as “one-sided and inefficient”.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday threatened to follow in Russia’s footsteps and pull his country out of the ICC, incensed at foreign criticism of his deadly drug war.
Speaking in his home town of Davao city in the southern Philippines shortly before flying to Peru for a regional summit, Duterte said: “They (Russians) may have thought the International Criminal Court is (useless), so they withdrew their membership.”
“I might follow. Why? Because these shameless bullies only picked on small countries like us.”
The Philippines is among 124 countries that are members of the UN-backed ICC, the world’s only permanent war crimes court.
The move by Russia to pull out of the ICC came only days after The Gambia on Monday formally notified the United Nations it was leaving the international court, following in the footsteps of South Africa and Burundi.
“Don’t go,” pleaded Senegalese minister Sidiki Kaba, the president of the ICC’s Assembly of State Parties as he opened an eight-day meeting.
“In a world criss-crossed by violent extremism… it is urgent and necessary to defend the ideal of justice for all.”
The tribunal opened in 2002 in The Hague as a court of last resort to try the world’s worst crimes where national courts are unable or unwilling to act.
In his passionate plea, Kaba admitted the ICC was undergoing a “difficult moment”.
With Russia and China having blocked UN moves to refer war crimes in Syria to the ICC for investigation, Kaba acknowledged some believed international justice was marred by double standards.
But he offered reassurances, saying: “You have been heard.”
There have long been accusations of bias against African nations. And Kenya, Namibia and Uganda have also indicated they are considering pulling out of the Rome Statute.
South Africa’s Justice Minister Michael Masutha told the assembly the decision to quit “was not taken lightly” by his country, which had played a major role in drawing up the founding statute.
He argued South Africa had been treated unfairly by the court when it did not arrest visiting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, even though the ICC has issued an international warrant for his arrest on war crimes charges.
Pretoria had found itself caught in a dilemma, with “conflicting obligations” to uphold both the ICC’s rules and international law granting immunity to heads of state, Masutha said, adding his country “would not become a safe haven for fugitives.”
Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda insisted however her office would continue “to forge ahead to deliver on its important mandate”.