South African withdrawal from the ICC a deplorable departure from commitments to justice

Press release
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(The Hague, Pretoria, Paris) FIDH and Lawyers for Human Rights strongly deplore the unilateral move by the South African executive to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), and call on the South African Parliament to annul this decision.

Withdrawal from the ICC is not only counterproductive to the international fight against impunity, but a shocking departure from South Africa’s commitment post-Apartheid to promoting justice and redress for victims of atrocities and has not complied with the Constitution and domestic legislation relating to SA State obligations toward international criminal justice.

Playing politics with justice is reprehensible,” stated Dimitris Christopolous, FIDH President, adding that, Withdrawing from the ICC is a deplorable and shameful way of dealing with victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. South Africa’s actions create a deplorable stain on the country’s post-Apartheid reputation and credibility.”

The decision to withdraw comes amidst a fragmented wave of criticism from some African States against the ICC, who claim the Court to be biased against Africa. Last week, the Burundian parliament approved a measure to withdraw from the Court, though notification has not yet been submitted to the UN. Burundi’s decision to withdraw against a conspicuous backdrop of violence and impunity in that country, where the ICC has recently opened a preliminary examination into international crimes.

A number of African States, however, have expressed their opposition to calls for mass withdrawal, including at the most recent AU Summit in Kigali. Such moves indicate that an anti-ICC position is far from universal on the continent, where support for international justice remains high. Additionally, numerous African states continue to cooperate with the ICC with respect to ongoing cases, including in Mali, Uganda, Cote d’Ivoire and others.

This decision undermines South Africa’s credibility as a leader on matters relating to international justice and human rights. We call on the South African Government to reconsider its decision and to allow for active dialogue between government and civil society to promote South Africa’s commitment to international justice.” said Jacob Van Garderen, LHR Executive Director.

Human rights organisations from around the continent have spoken out in support of the ICC as a fundamental tool for providing justice and redress to victims of international crimes, who often have no recourse at a national or regional level.

The ICC is currently investigating or examining crimes committed worldwide, including in Africa, South America, the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia.

Article 127 of the Statute of the ICC recalls that a withdrawal does not take effect until one year after notification. A withdrawal also does not discharge a State of its cooperation obligations incurred prior to the date on which the withdrawal comes into effect.

South Africa’s notification of withdrawal also comes while the government of South Africa awaits a decision by the country’s Constitutional Court, which will determine whether the government violated national and international law when it refused to arrest Sudanese President Al Bashir when he was present on South African territory earlier this year. Al Bashir is wanted by the ICC for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur. Withdrawal from the ICC will not affect this case, which is due to be heard in November 2016. South Africa has adopted the Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act of 2004 which saw the incorporation of these major crimes within national legal system. The Constitutional Court confirmed this in its 2014 judgment relating to the investigation of crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe.

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