Philippines says its exit marks ‘beginning of the end’ for International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court had opened a preliminary examination had been opened into President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs, to look into whether crimes against humanity had been committed. (Reuters)
Updated 15 March 2018

Philippines says its exit marks ‘beginning of the end’ for International Criminal Court

MANILA: The Philippines said on Thursday its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) could be “the beginning of the end” for the institution, as more countries would follow suit and non-members would be discouraged from joining.
The announcement to withdraw comes five weeks after a court prosecutor said a preliminary examination had been opened into President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs, to look into whether crimes against humanity had been committed.
But according to Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, that examination “violates the very fundamental basis by which we gave our consent to be bound by the ICC.”
ICC prosecutors have yet to comment on the announcement.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Duterte said UN special rapporteurs were trying to “paint me as a ruthless and heartless violator of human right,” and the ICC had acted prematurely and created the impression he would be charged with serious crimes.
Roque said Duterte believes there is a “conspiracy” among lobby groups and the United Nations, to which he said the ICC is perceived to be allied, and wants to indict him “in the court of public opinion.”
“The ICC has lost a strong ally in Asia,” Roque told a media briefing.
“No new countries will join because we are recognized as probably the number one defender of human rights and democracy in the world,” added Roque, a lawyer and prominent advocate for the Philippines joining the ICC in 2011.
Duterte’s opponents wasted no time in accusing him of flip-flopping, pointing out that he had repeatedly dared the ICC to indict him and said he would “rot in jail” to defend a war on drugs during which police have killed thousands of people.
They said Duterte’s decision was an admission of guilt and a sign that he was panicking.
Human rights and jurist groups condemned him for what they saw as an attempt to evade justice and accountability, and said a withdrawal was pointless, because jurisdiction applied retroactively, for the period of membership.
In an interview with ANC news channel early on Thursday, Roque warned of an “avalanche of other states leaving.”
“This is the beginning of the end of the court,” he said, adding that the ICC would have no jurisdiction over the Philippines, and it was unlikely Duterte would ever be handed over to the court.
Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said Duterte felt the ICC had become “a tool of oppression, a tool of harassment.”
Jude Sabio, the lawyer who filed the ICC complaint last year, told ANC that the issue of an arrest warrant for the president would be a “big triumph of justice.”


US imposes visa rules for pregnant women on ‘birth tourism’

Updated 7 min 59 sec ago

US imposes visa rules for pregnant women on ‘birth tourism’

  • Applicants will be denied a tourist visa unless they can prove they must come to give birth for medical reasons and have money to pay for it
  • The practice of traveling to the US to give birth is fundamentally legal

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration on Thursday imposed new visa rules aimed at restricting “birth tourism,” in which women travel to the United States to give birth so their children can have US citizenship.
Applicants will be denied a tourist visa unless they can prove they must come to the US to give birth for medical reasons and they have money to pay for it — not just because they want their child to have a passport.
“Closing this glaring immigration loophole will combat these endemic abuses and ultimately protect the United States from the national security risks created by this practice,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “It will also defend American taxpayers from having their hard-earned dollars siphoned away to finance the direct and downstream costs associated with birth tourism. The integrity of American citizenship must be protected.”
The practice of traveling to the US to give birth is fundamentally legal, although there are scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion. And women are often honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even show signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.
The State Department “does not believe that visiting the United States for the primary purpose of obtaining US citizenship for a child, by giving birth in the United States — an activity commonly referred to as ‘birth tourism’ — is a legitimate activity for pleasure or of a recreational nature,” according to the new rules, which were published Thursday in the Federal Register and take effect Friday.
While the new rules deal specifically with birth tourism aimed at wealthy immigrants coming largely from China and Russia, the Trump administration also has turned away pregnant women coming over the US-Mexico border as part of a broader immigration crackdown. Those women were initially part of a “vulnerable” group that included others like small children who were allowed in, while tens of thousands of other asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico to wait out their cases.
President Donald Trump’s administration has been restricting all forms of immigration, but Trump has been particularly plagued by the issue of birthright citizenship — anyone born in the US is considered a citizen, under the Constitution. The Republican president has railed against the practice and threatened to end it, but scholars and members of his administration have said it’s not so easy to do.
Regulating tourist visas for pregnant women is one way to get at the issue, but it raises questions about how officers would determine whether a woman is pregnant to begin with and whether a woman could get turned away by border officers who suspect she may be just by looking at her.
And critics of the new policy say it could put pregnant women at risk.
Consular officers don’t have the right to ask during visa interviews whether a woman is pregnant or intends to become so. But they would still have to determine whether a visa applicant would be coming to the US primarily to give birth.
Birth tourism is a lucrative business in both the US and abroad. Companies take out advertisements and charge up to $80,000 to facilitate the practice, offering hotel rooms and medical care. Many of the women travel from Russia and China to give birth in the US
The US has been cracking down on the practice since before Trump took office.
“An entire ‘birth tourism’ industry has evolved to assist pregnant women from other countries to come to the United States to obtain US citizenship for their children by giving birth in the United States, and thereby entitle their children to the benefits of US citizenship,” according to the State Department rules.
There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the US specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012 about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the US and then left the country.
“This rule will help eliminate the criminal activity associated with the birth tourism industry,” according to the rules. “The recent federal indictments describe birth tourism schemes in which foreign nationals applied for visitor visas to come to the United States and lied to consular officers about the duration of their trips, where they would stay, and their purpose of travel.”