In theory, an international criminal court (ICC) is a good idea, but in practice, the ICC as currently constituted has become little more than an odious organisation that does little more than harass developing nations that themselves have been the victim of external provocations, all the while ignoring the biggest war criminal in modern history, including the likes of George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton and Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.
The deeply politicised International Criminal Court, of which none of the three global superpowers (China, Russia, US) are members, has long been associated with the prosecution and persecution of African leaders. In fact 90% of all defendants brought before the ICC have been Africans. In 2016, the Gambia, South Africa and Burundi announced their intention to withdraw from the court, but later changed their decision in the face of international pressure. In South Africa, the issue is particularly sensitive as in spite of the clearly anti-African bias of the ICC, South Africa has tended towards a commitment to international organisations, no matter how ineffective, owing to the spirit of reconciliation which formed the basis of Nelson Mandela’s post Apartheid government.
But the unjust double standards of the ICC which has seen African leaders sitting before a court, deprived of any dignity, while countries with larger armed forces, vastly more weapons and a track record of large scale international war crimes have never been brought before the ICC, leaves the Court’s reputation in tatters.
Few Asian states are members of the ICC. Once The Philippines leaves as the current President Rodrigo Duterte intends to do, only Cambodia, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, South Korea, Mongolia and Japan will remain as full members. In terms of ASEAN, once The Philippines leaves, Cambodia will be the only ASEAN member to remain a full member of the ICC.
Yet while those who turned Libya into a failed state, those who illegally bombed civilians in Yugoslavia and those who turned Iraq into a festering swamp out of which Daesh (ISIS) grew remain not only free men and women but rich men and women, the ICC’s latest target in recent years has been Duterte. His “crime” is simply enforcing long neglected laws against narco-terrorism.
President Duterte’s war on drugs is as far from a “crime against humanity” as one can get. Duterte is helping to eradicate the scourge of narcotics that has ripped communities apart and turned areas of the country into a war zone where the reality of human rights is non-existent. In fighting drugs, drug culture, the drug trade and the financing of terrorism implicit in the drug trade, Duterte has done more to promulgate the basic human rights and social progress of his countrymen than any other leader in recent Philippine history.
Indeed, the ICC’s investigation into Duterte, which will now go nowhere due to the ICC shortly losing its jurisdiction over The Philippines, was symptomatic of a larger hybrid war against Duterte from a variety of state and non-state actors. Africa as a whole has been subject not just to months or years, but centuries of imperial exploitation which continues to this day in the form of corporate exploitation of African resources, African leaders who act as puppets of wealthy foreign regimes and a banking culture which has strangled Africa with debts that cannot realistically be repaid.
When Duterte stated that he rejects the “colonial mentality” with which the US treats The Philippines, he could have also been speaking for African leaders who for centuries have suffered under an even more pronounced version of this same colonial mentality.
In his commitment to rapidly withdraw from the corrupt ICC, Duterte will be setting an important precedent that can and should be followed by a majority of African states. The ICC, however noble its founding principles, has manifested itself as just another tool of neo-colonialism in an age where the multi-polar approach to trade, security and international justice, far outweighs anything that can be offered from remaining subservient to the institutions of former imperial masters.
Thus, while Duterte called on all developing nations to exit from the ICC’s biased and neo-colonial jurisdiction, he has been unexpectedly vindicated by John Bolton, the American National Security Adviser whose nation like Russia and China is a non-member of the court. But far from just this, Bolton has preemptively warned that should any American or US ally be investigated by the court, such individuals and associated entities will be directly and severely sanctioned by the US. While Bolton speaking of US allies was not explicitly referring to the historical geopolitical stance of The Philippines, he was in fact doing something far more encompassing.
When the hawkish Bolton called the court “illegitimate” he at once transformed the United States from a country that rejected the ICC to a country that will now overtly oppose the ICC. With the three superpowers all rejecting the court and with the world’s most powerful nation now outright opposing the very mandate and even existence of the court, it is fair to say that the ICC will no longer carry much practical weight in the real world unless the US should somehow change its stance on the controversial institution. In this sense from a practical point of view, the ICC is already a rump and lame institution.
Thus, while Duterte proceeds with his plan to extricate The Philippines from the court, in the very near future, there may be no such court to withdraw from. As soon as Bolton opened his mouth the court’s days became numbered. The ICC will probably be gone sooner rather than later.