South Africa to withdraw from International Criminal Court
Tension between South Africa’s laws and its duty as part of the ICC came to the surface last year when Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir visited the country to attend an African Union summit.
Pretoria drew a sharp rebuke from the ICC when it failed to arrest Bashir, who is wanted for crimes against humanity, a charge that he denies.
South Africa’s justice minister Michael Masutha said it “may have been an oversight” that the ICC act trumps customary international law on immunity. The country’s domestic laws abide by the principle of diplomatic immunity, Masutha said.
Masutha told reporters: “The implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act 2002 is in conflict and inconsistent with the provisions of the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act 2001.”
However, Masutha said South Africa wants “to remain a key player in conflict resolution in Africa and what may need to happen is that we host conflicting parties.”
Human Rights Watch slammed the move, saying: “South Africa’s proposed withdrawal from the ICC shows startling disregard for justice from a country long seen as a global leader on accountability for victims of the gravest crimes.”
A leaked document that was published by South Africa’s public broadcaster on Friday appeared to outline the country’s plan to withdraw.
“The Republic of South Africa has found that its obligations with respect to the peaceful resolution of conflicts at times are incompatible with the interpretation given by the International Criminal Court,” the document says.
But questions of politics, rather than law, are likely to be the main motivation behind the move. In October 2015, South Africa’s deputy minister of cooperative governance Obed Bapela told reporters that the government should implement the governing African National Congress’s decision to leave the ICC: “The principles that led us to be members [of the ICC] remain valid and relevant […] however. The ICC has lost its direction.”
To leave the court, South Africa must submit a notice to the United Nations secretary general. The country would leave the court’s jurisdiction one year after this notice is received.
The ICC was launched in 2002 with the mandate to prosecute crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes across international boundaries. It currently has 124 member states.
Last week, Burundi’s parliament approved a bill to leave the court, making it the first country to do so.
South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), was quick to condemn South Africa’s plans.
“We will approach the courts to have the notice of withdrawal to the ICC set aside as unconstitutional, irrational and procedurally flawed,” the DA said.