The International Criminal Court (ICC) has dropped a criminal complaint by two former Philippine officials against China’s president, saying it has no jurisdiction over Chinese officials accused of crimes in the disputed South China Sea.
The complaint, filed in March by former Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario and ex-ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, included a 17-page outline of how Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials had allegedly committed crimes by seeking to control the mineral-rich sea region.
Others named in the complaint are Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Zhao Jinhua, Beijing’s ambassador to the Philippines.
At the time they filed the complaint, del Rosario and Morales said they did so on behalf of thousands of Filipino fishermen “persecuted and injured’’ by China’s “aggressive occupation” of South China Sea islands. They pointed to the construction of military installations, claiming these were destructive to marine life.
In announcing her decision to not pursue the complaint, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the ICC lacked jurisdiction, according to a report issued by the court on Thursday.
“The crimes referred to in the communication were allegedly committed by Chinese nationals in the territory of the Philippines. China is not a state party to the Rome Statute. Accordingly, the court lacks personal jurisdiction,” the ICC prosecutor said, referring to the treaty that established the court.
“Criminal conduct which takes place in the Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf is thus in principle outside of the territory of a coastal state and as such, is not encompassed under … the [Rome] Statute,” she said.
Del Rosario and Carpio-Morales said they were considering appealing.
“Let them gloat in the meantime. This is just the beginning. Just wait,” Carpio-Morales said.
Del Rosario insisted that the ICC’s ruling was not a dismissal and that their camp was in the process of providing “new facts and evidence” to bolster the case.
China claims most of the South China Sea, including areas that reach the shores of its smaller neighbors. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims to the sea.
In 2012, the Chinese seized the Scarborough Shoal, a traditional fishing ground within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone after a two-month standoff with the Philippine Navy.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines over China, saying there was no legal basis for Beijing to claim historical rights in the sea region.
Beijing rejected the ruling and launched a building spree in territories it controls in the sea.