S Africa’s with­drawal rocks In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court

‘With­drawal shows star­tling dis­re­gard for jus­tice’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

PRETORIA: South Africa an­nounced yes­ter­day that it would with­draw from the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court, deal­ing a ma­jor blow to a trou­bled in­sti­tu­tion set up to try the world’s worst crimes. The de­ci­sion fol­lowed a dis­pute last year when Su­danese Pres­i­dent Omar Al-Bashir vis­ited the coun­try for an African Union sum­mit de­spite fac­ing an ICC ar­rest war­rant over al­leged war crimes. South Africa re­fused to ar­rest him, say­ing he had im­mu­nity as a head of state.

Jus­tice Min­is­ter Michael Ma­sutha told re­porters in Pretoria that the court was “in­hibit­ing South Africa’s abil­ity to honor its obli­ga­tions re­lat­ing to the grant­ing of diplo­matic im­mu­nity”. “There is a view in Africa that the ICC in choos­ing who to pros­e­cute has seem­ingly pre­ferred to tar­get lead­ers in Africa,” Ma­sutha added to AFP. The ICC, set up in 2002, is of­ten ac­cused of bias against Africa and has also strug­gled with a lack of co­op­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing from the United States which has signed the court’s treaty but never rat­i­fied it.

South Africa would be the first coun­try to leave the court, though oth­ers could soon fol­low. The with­drawal “shows star­tling dis­re­gard for jus­tice from a coun­try long seen as a global leader,” Hu­man Rights Watch said in a state­ment. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional said the coun­try was “be­tray­ing mil­lions of vic­tims of the gravest hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and un­der­min­ing the in­ter­na­tional jus­tice sys­tem.”

Post-colo­nial bias?

South Africa’s fail­ure as an ICC sig­na­tory to ar­rest Bashir led to a wave of con­dem­na­tion, which was met with an early threat from the gov­ern­ment to with­draw from The Hague-based court. Bashir has evaded ar­rest since his ICC in­dict­ment in 2009 for al­leged war crimes in Su­dan’s Dar­fur con­flict in which 300,000 peo­ple were killed and two mil­lion forced to flee their homes. Ear­lier this month Bu­rundi said it would with­draw, and Namibia and Kenya have also raised the pos­si­bil­ity.

“It could spark a domino ef­fect on other African states who may also want to pull out,” An­ton du Plessis, of the In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies, told AFP. “South Africa played an im­por­tant role in de­vel­op­ing the ICC and now to see it play­ing such a de­struc­tive role is sad­den­ing.” South Africa, which de­liv­ered a let­ter to the United Na­tions on Wed­nes­day to ac­ti­vate its for­mal with­drawal, is likely to com­plete the process in one year. The Demo­cratic Al­liance, the coun­try’s main op­po­si­tion party, im­me­di­ately launched a le­gal ap­peal, de­scrib­ing the with­drawal as “ir­ra­tional and pro­ce­du­rally flawed”. “The de­ci­sion... shows the depth of im­punity and dis­re­gard for the rule of law within the ANC (rul­ing party),” it said.

‘Dis­grace­ful con­duct’

In March, South Africa’s Supreme Court of Ap­peal ac­cused Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s gov­ern­ment of “dis­grace­ful con­duct” over Bashir’s visit and ruled that the fail­ure to ar­rest Bashir was un­law­ful. The gov­ern­ment was fac­ing a pos­si­ble de­feat in the Con­sti­tu­tional Court next month over the is­sue, but said that yes­ter­day’s de­ci­sion meant its le­gal bat­tle would be dropped.

Dur­ing the sum­mit, an emer­gency court or­der was ob­tained for Bashir’s ar­rest, but gov­ern­ment lawyers ad­mit­ted he had quickly flown out of the coun­try just be­fore the or­der was is­sued. “We were called as coun­try to ar­rest and pros­e­cute a sit­ting head of state and the nat­u­ral con­se­quence would have been forced regime change in that coun­try by South Africa,” Jus­tice Min­is­ter Ma­sutha told AFP.

Of the ten ICC probes since 2002, nine have been into African coun­tries and one into Ge­or­gia. In a ma­jor set­back, its high­est pro­file case-over Kenyan Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta’s in­volve­ment in elec­tion vi­o­lence-col­lapsed two years ago. This month, it found for­mer Con­golese vice pres­i­dent Jean-Pierre Bemba and four aides guilty of brib­ing wit­nesses. Its chief pros­e­cu­tor also re­cently sent a team to the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo to urge re­straint af­ter weeks of deadly un­rest. — AFP

PRETORIA: South African Jus­tice Min­is­ter Michael Ma­sutha gives a press brief­ing re­gard­ing South Africa’s de­ci­sion to with­draw from the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC). — AFP

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