'I will arrest you': Duterte warns ICC lawyer to stay out of Philippines

President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to arrest an International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor if she conducts activities in the Philippines, arguing it was no longer an ICC member, so the court had no right to do any investigating.

Court has jurisdiction in the country until withdrawal takes effect next year

President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers a speech during the 121st founding anniversary of the Philippine army at Taguig city in Metro Manila on March 20. Duterte says the International Criminal Court has no right to do any investigating in his country. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to arrest an International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor if she conducts activities in the Philippines, arguing it was no longer an ICC member, so the court had no right to do any investigating.

Hitting out at what he said was an international effort to paint him as a "ruthless and heartless violator of human rights," Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the ICC's Rome Statute a month ago and promised to continue his crackdown on drugs, in which thousands have been killed.

In February, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced the start of a preliminary examination into a complaint by a Philippine lawyer that accuses Duterte and top officials of crimes against humanity, and of killing criminals as a policy.

Loreta Amancera, aunt of Wilson Castillo, 33, who was among those killed amid Duterte's intensified war on drugs, cries in front of the coffin of her nephew, inside their house in V. Mapa, metro Manila, on Aug. 19. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

Duterte has cited numerous reasons he believes the ICC has no jurisdiction over him, and on Friday suggested that any doubts about that should have been dispelled by his withdrawal.

"What is your authority now? If we are not members of the treaty, why are you ... in this country?," he told reporters, in comments aimed at Bensouda. "You cannot exercise any proceedings here without basis. That is illegal and I will arrest you."

It is not clear whether Bensouda or the ICC has carried out any activities in the Philippines related to the complaint against Duterte.

The office of the prosecutor in The Hague and the Philippine Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

More than 4,000 dead

Since July 2016, police have killed more than 4,000 people they say are drug dealers who resisted arrest. Activists say many of those were executions, which police deny.

Duterte has told security forces not to co-operate with any foreign investigators, and last month said he would convince other ICC members to withdraw.

Duterte had earlier vowed to face the ICC, and critics say pulling out is futile, because the ICC has jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes committed in the period from when the Philippines joined in 2011 to when its withdrawal takes effect in March 2019.

Under the Rome Statute, the ICC can step in and exercise jurisdiction if states are unable or unwilling to investigate  suspected crimes.

But the mercurial former mayor and his legal aides argue that technically, the Philippines never actually joined the ICC, because it was not announced in the country's official gazette.

"If there is no publication, it is as if there is no law at all," Duterte said on Friday.