Editorial: Rather sort out issues than quit

What is most worrying about the government’s damaging decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) is not the complete absence of any public engagement or even parliamentary backing, but its cloudy motivation.

There has understandably been condemnation of the move from a broad range of commentators who are deeply concerned over the extent to which it will undermine and dent our widely respected human rights profile.

The reasoning supplied to the United Nations is not convincing.

To suggest that South Africa has at times found itself at loggerheads with the ICC when it comes to the peaceful resolution of conflicts is a thinly-veiled attempt to mask a far more pressing issue.

Adhering to the court’s Rome Statute obstructs the government’s ability to grant diplomatic immunity – as provided by our legislation in line with international law – to sitting leaders or those whom it chooses.

Even though such persons could well be those sought by the ICC for gross human rights abuses, genocide or other war crimes.

Justice Minister Michael Masutha says the implementation of the Rome Statute is therefore in conflict with our own laws and jeopardises our relationships with foreign countries where we may be attempting to restore peace and stability.

But surely our status as one of the first countries to adopt the treaty in an effort to eliminate crimes against humanity should take precedence over any cosy diplomacy efforts.

The government cannot have its bread buttered on both sides.

It is also a decision that will not sit well with many who were appalled at the government’s failure to arrest Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir – wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes – when he visited this country.

A number of African countries have made it clear they are unhappy with what they describe as the disproportionate targeting of the continent by the ICC.

But then this is a pertinent matter to be taken up with the court rather than simply quitting it.

We should not lose sight of the ball here – and that is our commitment to the victims of human rights abuses.

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