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South Africa to withdraw from the International Criminal Court

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The International Criminal Court (ICC) Pre-Trial Chamber I (ICC Website)

October 21, 2016 (KHARTOUM) - South Africa on Friday disclosed it is pulling out of the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), making the country the second this week, after Burundi, to leave the tribunal.

Last year, South Africa’s government said it is planning to withdraw from the tribunal after it was criticized for failing to arrest the visiting Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir who stands accused by the ICC of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

At a press conference on Friday, South Africa’s justice minister, Michael Masutha, said the “ICC’s obligations are inconsistent with domestic laws giving sitting leaders diplomatic immunity”.

“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,” he added.

Any move to leave the tribunal would take effect one year after notice is formally received by the United Nations Secretary General.

On Friday, the public broadcaster SABC published a letter entitled “Instrument of Withdrawal” outlining South Africa’s withdrawal plan.

According to the letter signed by international relations minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the country “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”.

On the other hand, South Africa’s move has sparked a wave of criticism from a number of human rights groups.

In a statement on Friday, Human Rights Watch said South Africa’s proposed withdrawal “shows startling disregard for justice from a country long seen as a global leader on accountability for victims of the gravest crimes”.

It added that “It’s important both for South Africa and the region that this runaway train be slowed down and South Africa’s hard-won legacy of standing with victims of mass atrocities be restored.”

For its part, Amnesty International (AI) denounced South Africa’s government decision to pull out of the ICC and described it as a “deep betrayal of millions of victims worldwide”.

“Parliament must urgently convene to reconsider the government’s decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute, the founding instrument of the International Criminal Court,” AI said in a press statement on Friday.

Netsanet Belay, AI’s research and advocacy director for Africa, said that South Africa’s “sudden notice to withdraw from the ICC is deeply disappointing”.

“In making this move, the country is betraying millions of victims of the gravest human rights violations and undermining the international justice system,” he said
“South Africa’s support for the ICC, after the country suffered through decades of apartheid, was an important step towards creating rights respecting societies around the world,” Belay added.

Several African governments and the African Union (AU) have voiced concerns over the ICC’s fairness, and accused it of targeting African leaders.

They further to say that war crimes court has violated its founding treaty the Rome Statute, when it prosecutes cases investigate by the national jurisdiction.

Last July, the 27th AU summit held in the Rwandan capital Kigali did not call for a mass withdrawal from the court, despite calls by several African leaders including Sudan. However, an African Union ministerial committee is debating the issue and is expected to present reform demands at the next meeting of ICC assembly of states parties, in November.

Just days ago, Burundi became the first country ever to withdraw from the ICC. The country’s parliament overwhelmingly approved the proposal, and the president signed it into law on Tuesday.

Established in 2002 to try war criminals and perpetrators of genocide never tried at home, the ICC has opened inquiries involving nine nations, including Kenya, Ivory Coast, Libya, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda, Mali and, most recently, Georgia.

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