The Permanent Premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. 

© 2016 UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent decision to withdraw the country from the International Criminal Court (ICC) should come as no surprise. The ICC – a court of last resort to try those most responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity – inevitably runs up against political interests opposed to accountability.

But Duterte’s angry rejection of the court should be a reminder to all that the ICC’s ability to give some victims a path to justice ultimately rests with governments. As the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, nears its 20th anniversary in July, ICC member countries should take every opportunity to voice support for the court’s essential role.

That support was on display last week when members of the Organization of American States (OAS) met in Washington, DC, the tenth time the OAS has held a session on the ICC. The region has been a strong supporter of the court: 29 out of 35 OAS members are also ICC countries. This was evident in the statements of the many countries that spoke up about the ICC at the meeting.

The OAS session focused on strengthening cooperation with the court, which, in additional to political backing, relies on governments for help in investigations and arrests. The meeting also commemorated the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute, signed on July 17, 1998. Mexico and Ecuador each announced special initiatives planned for the year.

ICC member countries in all regions should make the most of this anniversary year by voicing their support, particularly at the highest levels of government, and through concrete steps that can assist the court, for example, by bringing attention to the need for cooperation in arrests. These countries should highlight the ICC’s role in providing an important counterpoint to the impunity for grave international crimes that persists in much of the world.

The OAS’s focus on the ICC treaty’s 20th anniversary will hopefully be followed by many other initiatives this year.