Six de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion

There are plau­si­ble rea­sons – none of which in­volve Omar al-Bashir – for SA re­vok­ing the Rome Statute, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

Af­ter years of grum­bling about the in­equal­i­ties which char­ac­terise var­i­ous mul­ti­lat­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions, a fed-up South Africa took ac­tion last month and joined a grow­ing bloc of dis­senters, in­clud­ing Gam­bia and Bu­rundi. South Africa is in good com­pany. Its “Haixit” is the re­sult of an un­sur­pris­ing cul­mi­na­tion of fac­tors re­lated to the coun­try’s ef­forts to an­chor its for­eign pol­icy away from an over­bear­ing Western ap­proach. This is in line with what many in for­eign pol­i­cy­mak­ing cir­cles feel is an over­re­liance on the fickle West to de­ter­mine mul­ti­lat­eral ini­tia­tives.

South Africa has been an ex­em­plary global player post apartheid, but what has this ben­e­fit­ted it? Its in­put has been ig­nored in cru­cial de­ci­sions, es­pe­cially those to do with Africa.

South Africa’s of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment of its in­ten­tion to leave the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC) came days af­ter Bu­rundi’s Par­lia­ment voted over­whelm­ingly to with­draw from the court.

Look­ing at the list of dis­sent­ing coun­tries, one is con­fronted with a di­verse group, es­pous­ing an as­sort­ment of po­lit­i­cal ide­olo­gies. This high­lights the need to broaden our scope in ex­plain­ing South Africa’s rea­sons for its with­drawal. This en­tails ex­am­in­ing how the coun­try’s na­tional in­ter­est man­i­fests in the geopo­lit­i­cal space in which it prac­tices its for­eign pol­icy.

In de­cid­ing that its in­ter­ests were no longer com­pat­i­ble with the va­garies of the Rome Statute – the treaty, signed in Rome in 1998, which paved the way for the ICC to come into force in July 2002 – South Africa can­not be more im­pas­sive than Malaysia, India, Sin­ga­pore, Turkey, the Vatican and Viet­nam.

Th­ese are six of the 42 coun­tries that have never signed the treaty – and have never ex­pressed a wish to join the ICC.

Then there are Thai­land, Al­ge­ria, Monaco and Morocco – some of the 32 coun­tries who signed but have yet to rat­ify the treaty. Un­til this week, Rus­sia formed part of this bloc. On Wed­nes­day, Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin de­cided to with­draw his coun­try’s sig­na­ture, af­ter ICC prose­cu­tors said Moscow’s 2014 an­nex­a­tion of Crimea could be clas­si­fied as an act of war. An­other case in point is the US, which signed the treaty, but later de­clared its in­ten­tions not to rat­ify it and re­nounced any le­gal obli­ga­tion to the ICC. What does all this mean? Coun­tries have in­ter­ests. De­ci­sions on how to pur­sue them of­ten take place far from for­mal pro­nounce­ments. In­ter­ests are cold and cal­cu­lat­ing – and, as a mat­ter of course, elicit crit­i­cism. But the wis­dom of choos­ing one path over an­other for the sake of na­tional in­ter­est is re­deemable, or con­demnable, only in terms of the re­sult of this choice. This gives rise to six rea­sons which may ex­plain South Africa’s with­drawal from the statute.

Firstly, the re­pu­di­a­tion can be seen as an at­tempt to re­gain sovereignty re­gard­ing de­ci­sions on pol­icy and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. South Africa signed the treaty on July 17 1998. It was among the first 10 coun­tries to do so. All but two were African.

The world was in geno­cide pre­ven­tion mode. Guilty at hav­ing done lit­tle to pre­vent the Rwan­dan geno­cide only four years ear­lier, the re­frain “never again” re­ver­ber­ated as na­tion af­ter na­tion fol­lowed suit and signed the Rome Statute.

For South Africa, the re­turns from the ide­al­is­tic for­eign pol­icy niche it carved out dur­ing the eras of for­mer pres­i­dents Nel­son Man­dela and Thabo Mbeki have come with more cost than ben­e­fits. Its with­drawal serves as an ad­mis­sion by South Africa to be­ing part of a com­plex world where there are no clear-cut or per­ma­nent solutions. In­ter­ests change, but they must come first.

Se­condly, South Africa’s exit may be seen as the cul­mi­na­tion of a se­ries of events – char­ac­terised not, as many ob­servers have averred, by the fail­ure to hon­our its obli­ga­tions to the ICC and ar­rest Su­dan’s Pres­i­dent Omar al-Bashir while he was in the coun­try last year – but events dat­ing fur­ther back in time.

The bomb­ing of Libya in 2011 by mil­i­tary group the North At­lantic Treaty Or­gan­i­sa­tion (Nato) re­sulted in a break­down of trust in Western good­will. South Africa learnt the hard way that it may have been naive in tak­ing Western states at their word.

It is not im­plau­si­ble to imag­ine that the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma never re­cov­ered from feel­ing it was tricked into vot­ing for Res­o­lu­tion 1973 – which pro­vided le­gal grounds for mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Libya – in March 2011 at the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. While its coun­ter­parts in Brazil, Rus­sia, India, China and – which, with South Africa, form the Brics coali­tion – ab­stained, South Africa and Nige­ria joined in a lofty project to take “all nec­es­sary mea­sures” to os­ten­si­bly pro­tect civil­ian lives.

Libya, how­ever, would be­come a caul­dron of more vi­o­lence, lead­ing to leader Muam­mar Gaddafi’s death seven months later.

Thoughts may linger among Zuma’s ad­min­is­tra­tion that a Nato al­liance could one day try a “regime change” project in Pre­to­ria. Al­ready, a sig­nif­i­cant body of opin­ion sees a third hand in the coun­try’s in­ter­nal un­rest, stu­dent protests in­cluded.

Thirdly, South Africa is em­u­lat­ing three of its Brics part­ners – India, Rus­sia and China – which have never rat­i­fied the treaty. South Africa may not want to be seen as a weak link.

Fourthly, the exit serves as Pre­to­ria’s vote of no con­fi­dence against the mul­ti­lat­eral struc­ture, which has failed to re­form and let African coun­tries play a more in­flu­en­tial role. By with­draw­ing, South Africa pro­vides lead­er­ship over the most ar­dent dis­senters on the con­ti­nent, a role hith­erto oc­cu­pied by Zim­babwe. Tired of be­ing out­shone by that coun­try’s head, Robert Mu­gabe, Zuma may be set­ting up a legacy project which, along with his tak­ing South Africa into Brics, sees it play a lead­ing role.

Fifthly, South Africa is leav­ing the ICC be­cause it can. Un­like many African coun­tries which have also voiced op­po­si­tion to the court but fear precious aid be­ing with­drawn by Western donor coun­tries, South Africa car­ries no such in­se­cu­rity. Sixthly, South Africa is seek­ing to im­prove its sta­tus on the con­ti­nent. Its diplo­mats are tired of be­ing told in Africa’s cap­i­tals about hon­our­ing the bonds forged in lib­er­a­tion trenches. In 1962, Man­dela flew from Tan­za­nia to La­gos in Nige­ria to at­tend the Con­fer­ence of In­de­pen­dent States. The jour­ney in­cluded a lay­over in Khar­toum, cap­i­tal of Su­dan. Hav­ing slipped out of South Africa, Man­dela had no travel doc­u­ments be­sides a flimsy piece of pa­per he was given by of­fi­cials in Tan­ganyika (later Tan­za­nia). An old Su­danese im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cial read the sus­pi­cious note, on which was scrib­bled: “This is Nel­son Man­dela, a cit­i­zen of the Re­pub­lic of South Africa. He has per­mis­sion to leave Tan­ganyika and re­turn here.” It was not a travel doc­u­ment in any shape or form. But with an em­pa­thetic smile, the old man waved Madiba on, say­ing: “My son, wel­come to the Su­dan.” Dr Mnyandu is an ex­pert on East Asia-South Africa re­la­tions and a pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of African stud­ies at Howard Univer­sity in Wash­ing­ton, DC

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Fa­tou Ben­souda is chief pros­e­cu­tor at the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court in The Hague, Nether­lands. South Africa and other mem­ber states have an­nounced their in­ten­tion to leave

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