Amnesty International on Friday denounced government’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying it was 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,” Amnesty International said in a press statement released on Friday.
Earlier that day it was reported that a document regarding the decision, dated October 19, had been signed by Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
The move would take effect one year after notice is formally received by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. A UN spokesperson declined to confirm receipt of the document.
“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 reads.
The South African mission to the UN was not immediately available to comment on the document.
The ICC, which opened in July 2002 and has 124 member states, is the first legal body with permanent international jurisdiction to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Burundi appeared set to become the first state to withdraw from the Rome Statute, the 1998 treaty establishing the global court, after its Parliament voted last week to leave. President Pierre Nkurunziza signed a decree on Tuesday, but the UN has not yet been officially notified.
South Africa said a year ago that it planned to leave the ICC after its government faced criticism for ignoring a court order to arrest Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is accused of genocide and war crimes, when he visited the country last year.
Several African countries have expressed concern that the focus of The Hague-based court has been on Africa rather than elsewhere in the world.
“The Republic of South Africa is committed to fight impunity and to bring those who commit atrocities and international crimes to justice and as a founding member of the African Union promotes international human rights and the peaceful resolution of conflicts on the African continent,” the document said.
“In complex and multi-faceted peace negotiations and sensitive post-conflict situations, peace and justice must be viewed as complementary and not mutually exclusive,” it continues.
In its press release, Amnesty International had this to say about the decision:
“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,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s research and advocacy director for Africa.
“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.”
The South African government has filed a notification of withdrawal from the ICC with the United Nations.
The notice of withdrawal follows non-cooperation procedures against South Africa at the ICC after the country failed to institute a warrant of arrest against Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir when he visited the country in June 2015 to attend the AU Summit.
The South African government has argued that it was treated unfairly following its refusal to arrest President Omar Al-Bashir.
“South Africa must not abandon its role as a champion of human rights and justice. The Rome Statute is a covenant between countries that they will no longer allow crimes under international law, including apartheid, to be committed with impunity,” said Netsanet Belay.
“South Africa must constructively engage with the ICC to resolve any legitimate concerns it may have rather than taking actions that will only serve to bring the country into disrepute and harm the global fight for peace and justice. “
The news of South Africa’s intention to withdraw from the ICC comes as a case is pending before the country’s Constitutional Court to decide whether it has violated its obligations under international and domestic law when it failed to arrest President Omar Al-Bashir.
The notification of withdrawal does not affect the case and South Africa cannot avoid its responsibilities under domestic and international law by withdrawing from the Statute.
The decision is particularly disturbing as it comes only one week after Burundi adopted a law in Parliament on withdrawal from the ICC. – Reuters, Staff reporter