The government’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) will weaken the country’s position as a champion of human rights, experts said yesterday.
The decision has received widespread condemnation from legal experts, civil society and opposition parties, who said they would challenge it on a legal basis as it had been made without any public consultation or parliamentary approval.
In a letter by International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana Mashabane notifying the United Nations of the country’s intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute, she wrote that South Africa “has found its obligations with respect to the peaceful resolution of conflicts at times are incompatible with the interpretation given by the ICC of obligations contained in the Rome Statute”.
Former National Prosecuting Authority head Vusi Pikoli expressed disappointment yesterday, as he said South Africa had played a leading role as one of the first countries to adopt the Rome Statute in the late 1990s under former president Nelson Mandela.
“Since 1994, South Africa has been seen as championing the cause of human rights . . . Apartheid is specifically mentioned as a crime through [its] involvement in the ICC,” he said.
“Withdrawing would mean we are weakening our position as a leading champion of human rights.”
Pikoli said if the government felt there were any weaknesses or bias by the ICC, it had a right to raise those issues, rather than pulling out.
“We cannot put diplomatic rights above our legal obligations. The main issue should be the victims of gross human rights violations.”
South African Institute of International Affairs chief executive Elizabeth Sidiropoulos said for South Africa’s image abroad in terms of pursuing a values- driven foreign policy, the decision was a significant step backwards.
“The moral high ground that South Africa has occupied on issues of transitional justice, peace-building and human rights has been dealt a blow,” she said.
Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) executive secretary Lawson Naidoo said: “It has come as a shock . . . especially in the light that the [Sudan President Omar] al-Bashir case would be heard in the Constitutional Court next month.”
“One would have expected that the government would have first approached parliament in this regard.”
Naidoo said the ICC had the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
By taking this step South Africa would lose the global respect it had earned since abolishing apartheid, he said.
Institute for Security Studies (ISS) researcher Allan Ngari said: “South Africa’s decision, and the manner in which it was done, casts a shadow on its longstanding history of championing human rights and fighting for a democratic society.”
ISS executive director Anton du Plessis said the North Gauteng High Court and Supreme Court of South Africa had ruled that South Africa was under an international law obligation to arrest al-Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Darfur.
– Additional reporting by TMG Digital