South Africa to quit international court

Opposition figures say move unconstitutional, plan to file court application to stop it

PRETORIA • South Africa has said it will quit the International Criminal Court (ICC) because membership was in conflict 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 Johannesburg for a summit.

A document seen by Reuters at the United Nations on Thursday showed the move would take effect one year after notice was formally received by Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. The document was signed by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and dated Oct 19. Justice Minister Michael Masutha told reporters yesterday that the government would draft a Bill to repeal South Africa's adoption of the ICC's Rome Statute in order 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.

Mr Masutha said Pretoria would now drop its appeal to the Constitutional Court against a ruling that the state had made an error in letting Mr Bashir leave the country.

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

Law professor Jeremy Sarkin from the University of South Africa said the move to quit the ICC would be challenged by civil society: "I am sure there are a range of organisations who will take up this particular matter that is in violation of our Constitution, in violation of South African law and in violation of the decisions of the courts over the last few years about South Africa's international obligations."

The ICC, 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.

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.

The ICC, 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.

Burundi's Parliament voted last week to leave the ICC, and Kenya's Parliament is considering following suit after a high-profile attempt by the ICC to try Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy over an outbreak of post-election violence failed.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'South Africa to quit international court'. Print Edition | Subscribe