By Roy Mabasa
A high-ranking British official has expressed regret over the decision of the Philippines to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC), an institution which it considers a “cornerstone of the rules-based international system that makes people safer.”
“We believe that it needs the support of the whole international community and we are sure that the Philippines could make a great contribution,” UK Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field said at a forum organized by the Albert Del Rosario Institute in Makati City on Friday.
The Philippines’ decision to withdraw from the ICC came following President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement denouncing certain UN officials for “painting (him) guilty before the eyes of the world … as a ruthless and heartless violator of human rights.”
The withdrawal from the ICC was contained in a ‘note verbale’ submitted by the Philippine Permanent Mission to the office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 15.
Several states and international institutions like the UN human rights body and the European Union have criticized the Duterte administration’s war on drugs campaign that left hundreds of people dead and about 150,000 others in jail.
The Philippines is one of the 118 states that signed and ratified what is known as the Rome Statute, a multilateral treaty that serves as the ICC’s foundational and governing document.
Nonetheless, Fields said the UK wants to work in partnership with regional institutions, including the Philippines, to “uphold and strengthen the rules-based international system in Asia, as elsewhere.”
He pointed out that it is because of the rules-based system why the UK stood shoulder to shoulder with Japan, South Korea and other countries in denouncing nuclear adventurism by North Korea, stood up for the rights of the Hong Kong people and for the principle of “One country, two systems,” and its call for all parties for respect on freedom of navigation and international law in the South China Sea.
“It is critical for regional stability, and for the integrity of the Rules-Based International System, that disputes in the region are resolved, not through force, militarization or coercion, but through dialogue and in accordance with international law,” Field said in his remarks.
“The UK is backing the Rules-Based International System in Asia through our security cooperation as well as our humanitarian support and diplomacy,” Field said.
As one of the few countries able to deploy air power 7,000 miles from its shores, UK, for the first time, sent their Typhoon fighter jets to train with Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia.
It also deployed two Royal Navy ships to the region – HMS Sutherland and Albion and soon HMS Argyll. We will have an almost unbroken naval presence in the strategically critical Asia-Pacific this year,” he said.
As part of its multilateralism approach, Fields said one of the first missions of their two big new aircraft carriers is to sail through the Straits of Malacca, the route that currently accommodates a quarter of global trade.
“Not because we have enemies in this region – but because we believe in upholding the rule of law,” he said.
Aside from the country’s withdrawal from the ICC, the British official said they were also disappointed that the Philippines – along with 23 other countries – did not join the UK in the petition before the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate Russia’s attack against a former Russian spy in the English town of Salisbury in March, using Soviet-developed Novichok.
Field said it was the first time since the Second World War that a nerve agent had been deployed in continental Europe.
Last month, the OPCW agreed to a UK proposal to strengthen the ban on chemical weapons and prevent impunity for their use.
“We were grateful to the 82 countries that supported the measures to reinforce a key plank of the Rules-Based International System,” Fields said.
The UK official also reminded the Philippines on its duty to help defend the rules-based system, which he said is not a property of a single country or an alliance of countries but “something that belongs to us.”
“If we stand back – perhaps in the hope of some possible short-term gain – we will all be worse off in the long run,” he warned.
Field further explained that the rules-based system has been built with the shared wisdom gleaned from shared history.
“That history has taught us that too often people have been held back by repression, corruption or authoritarianism. They have not had the opportunities, freedoms and protections to make the most of their talents and hard work,” said the British official, adding that the System is the “best friend for any person or country with unfulfilled potential.”
“It is the duty of all of us to defend it. It is what I will work for. It is what the UK will work for. We hope you will too,” Field said.