After being infuriated by mounting criticism against the anti-drug campaign of his administration, especially by the United Nations (UN), President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday suddenly came up with a wild thought. He toyed with the idea of withdrawing the Philippines from its UN membership.
“Maybe we’ll just have to decide to separate from the United Nations!” President Duterte retorted.
“If you’re that rude… we’ll just leave you,” Duterte said while in front of reporters in Davao, indirectly addressing the UN and referring to possibly seceding from it. It was in Davao that Duterte became popular with his tough stance against crime, illegal drugs in particular, as mayor. Duterte described the criticism as no less than “pandemic.”
In his speech, Duterte said the Philippines would secede once its monetary contributions are refunded.
But can this be possible?
Article 17 of the UN charter says all members are obligated to contribute a certain amount to shoulder its peacekeeping efforts worldwide. In the case of the Philippines, its share is 0.03 percent of the operations made from 2013 to 2015. The approved budget for peacekeeping from 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016 was some $8.27 billion.
However, the Charter has no provision on membership withdrawal, although the UN Security Council can recommend erring nations to be expelled from membership. Even proposals made during the 1944 Dumbarton Oaks conference lacked withdrawal provisions which observers saw as a move to prevent member-nations from avoiding responsibilities or securing certain concessions.
For instance, Japan withdrew from the then League of Nations in 1933 after being criticized by the League for annexing China. Germany also withdrew in the same year. Similarly, Italy decided to leave in 1937 after being sanctioned after invading Ethiopia. Thus, the UN Charter omitted withdrawal provisions to make membership permanent.
In 1965, Indonesia tried to withdraw its UN membership due to Malaysia’s role in the Security Council but later decided to continue.
However, the so-called Vienna Convention tackling the Law of the Treaties provides a way out of international treaties. Article 62 of the convention document allows cessation or withdrawal from a treaty if “fundamental change of circumstances” should happen, like perhaps UN’s supposed intrusion into the national affairs of the country as Duterte has cited.
If Duterte pushes through with the plan to withdraw from the UN, it could invoke the Vienna Convention provision by putting a request in writing three months from the desired date of cessation.
But Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. was quick to defend the president, also on Monday, and assured everyone that “We are committed to the UN despite our numerous frustrations with this international agency,” Yasay insisted in a press conference.
“The president was tired, disappointed, hungry when he made the statement. We must give him leeway. He is also human,” Yasay urged his audience.
The UN had urged Duterte and his administration to stop extrajudicial killings in the country even if it is fighting illegal drugs. It also urged local law enforcers to comply with the country’s international human rights obligations.
Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, warned that Duterte and other officials could be held liable for the killings and that “claims to fight illicit drug trade do not absolve the government from its international legal obligations and do not shield state actors or others from responsibility for illegal killings.”