South Africa begins process to exit International Criminal Court

October 21, 2016

South Africa has started the process to leave the International Criminal Court. Last night diplomats notified the United Nations that the country intends to revoke its ratification of the Rome Statute. As South African parliament has not had a say in the matter it is unclear whether the government has the authority to do so.

According to local online newspaper Daily Maverick, South Africa has formally begun the year-long process to complete withdrawal in New York on Thursday.

Earlier this week Burundi took the same step, but that country has obtained approval from parliament and president Nkurunziza signed the order. The move was widely condemned.

A UN spokesman declined to confirm receipt of the document, which is signed by foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and dated October 19.

“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,” according to the document.

Foreign affairs spokesman Clayson Monyela declined to comment, saying the justice minister would hold a news conference on the issue in the morning.

The International Criminal Court, 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 appears 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 United Nations have not yet been officially notified.

South Africa said a year ago that it planned to leave the ICC after its government was criticised for ignoring a court order to arrest Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is accused of genocide and war crimes, when he visited 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 stated. “In complex and multi-faceted peace negotiations and sensitive post-conflict situations, peace and justice must be viewed as complementary and not mutually exclusive.”