Published On: Thu, Oct 27th, 2016

South Africa to withdraw from war crimes court

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South Africa has formally begun the process of withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC), notifying the UN of its decision.

South Africa did not want to execute ICC arrest warrants which would lead to “regime change”, a minister said.

Last year, a South African court criticised the government for refusing to arrest Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir.

He is wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide and war crimes.

Mr Bashir was attending an African Union summit in Johannesburg, when the government ignored an ICC request to arrest him.

He denies allegations that he committed atrocities in Sudan’s troubled western Darfur region.

Several media outlets say they have obtained a copy of the “Instrument of Withdrawal”, signed by South Africa’s foreign minister.

“The Republic of South Africa has 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,” the document says.

‘Runaway train’

Justice Minister Michael Masutha said at a press conference that the government would table legislation in parliament to withdraw South Africa from the ICC.

The Rome Statute, under which the ICC was set up, required the arrest of heads of state for whom a warrant was issued.

The consequence of this would be “regime change” and the statute was incompatible with South African legislation which gave heads of state diplomatic immunity, he added.

Human Rights Watch has criticised South Africa’s decision.

“South Africa’s proposed withdrawal from the International Criminal Court shows startling disregard for justice from a country long seen as a global leader on accountability for victims of the gravest crimes,” said Dewa Mavhinga, the NGO’s Africa division senior researcher.

“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,” Mr Mavhinga said.

Mr Masutha said the government had also decided to drop its appeal against a ruling of South Africa’s High Court, that it had violated its international obligations by failing to arrest Mr Bashir.

The appeal was due to have been heard next month.

The move to leave comes a week after the South African President Jacob Zuma visited Kenya, a country that has been highly critical of the ICC ever since the prosecutor charged its President Uhuru Kenyatta with crimes against humanity.

He denied the charges, and the trial later collapsed beceause of a lack of evidence.

Two weeks ago Burundi said it would pull out of the ICC – a decision described by the court as “a setback in the fight against impunity”. MPs backed the decision and its president signed the measure into law on Tuesday.

Last year, Namibia also said it planned to withdraw from the ICC, describing the court as an an “abomination” which wanted to “dictate” to Africans on how they should be governed.

Previously, the African Union has urged member states not to co-operate with the ICC, accusing it of being racially biased against Africa by failing to prosecute suspected war criminals from other parts of the world.

The ICC denies the allegation, saying it pursues justice on behalf of Africans who are victims of atrocities.

The 124-member ICC opened in 2002. It is the first legal body with permanent international jurisdiction to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

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