South Africa to quit International Criminal Court

  • 22/10/2016

South Africa says it is quitting the International Criminal Court (ICC) because membership conflicted with diplomatic immunity laws, dealing a new blow to the struggling court and angering the political opposition.

Pretoria last year announced its intention to leave after the ICC criticised it for ignoring a court order to arrest Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is accused of genocide and war crimes, when he visited. Bashir has denied the accusations.

The announcement puts new pressure on the world's first permanent war crimes court, which has had to fight off allegations of pursuing a neo-colonial agenda in Africa, where all but one of its 10 investigations have been based.

Burundi has already said it plans to leave and Kenya's parliament is considering following suit.

Justice Minister Michael Masutha told reporters in Pretoria the government would draft a bill to repeal South Africa's adoption of the ICC's Rome Statute to preserve its ability to conduct active diplomatic relations, and had given formal notice.

He said the statute conflicted with South Africa's Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act, but that the government remained committed to the fight against impunity.

James Selfe, a senior executive at the main opposition Democratic Alliance, said the party would file a court application on Friday to set aside the plans "on the grounds that it is unconstitutional, irrational and procedurally flawed".

Former South African judge Richard Goldstone, a respected figure in international justice and former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said quitting the ICC was "demeaning" to the country.

"From a moral standpoint, it detracts from the inspiring legacy of the administration of President Nelson Mandela that so strongly supported the ICC," said Mr Goldstone, chairman of the advisory board of the coalition for the ICC, which provides strategic guidance on key issues.

The court, which sits in The Hague and has 124 member states, is the first legal body with permanent international jurisdiction to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

But it has secured only five substantive verdicts in its 14-year history, all of them on African suspects, and several African countries have expressed concern that the continent is being picked on.