Last week (20/10) International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane signed off a document to the United Nations confirming South Africa’s withdrawal from the ICC (International Criminal Court).
The ICC serves as an international court that seeks to arrest and sentence war criminals, governments and leaders guilty of crimes against humanity. The ICC made headlines this year for sentencing ex-vice president of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, for using rape as a weapon for war.
South Africa joined the ICC in June 2002, entailing that our government being legally obligated to arrest war criminals that enter our borders.
The move was followed by news that the Democratic Alliance intended on contesting the notice in court. Human Rights Watch’s Africa Divison senior researcher, Dewa Mavhinga said on Friday that questions remained ‘whether the government acted in line with it’s own laws’ by leaving the court. President Jacob Zuma , justice minister Michael Masutha and Foreign Minsister’s neglect to recognize that South Africa’s membership of the ICC is codified by an Act of Parliament.
Zuma’s move to disentangle the country from the ICC follow the blatant failure on his part to arrest Sudanese war criminal Omar Al-Bashir when he attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg in June 2015. Despite a warrant for Al-Bashir’s arrest by the ICC for genocide and war crimes committed during the Darfur conflict, Zuma refused to honour the Rome Statute, failing to capture him (and perhaps assisting him) before he left the borders.
This alone was shameful. But it is even worse when we consider that South Africa was instrumental in the building of the ICC and signed the Rome Statute itself. The Rome Statute that enabled the ICC to have legal power to prosecute leaders abusing power against the weak. Countries like the United States, Israel and China as well as many in the Middle East refused to ratify theRome Statute so as not to be held to it’s laws.
As Sipho Hlongwane wrote for The Mail & Guardian, these events are particularly shaming considering that’ever since the end of apartheid, South Africa has been considered a leading light on the international stage on issues of human rights, peace and justice.’ It is very clear that the ANC that signed the Rome Statute is not to ANC of today, with the ANC’s spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu, calling the ANC’s rule under Zuma ‘worse than apartheid’.
Masutha’s reasons as stated at the media briefing were: “At this point in time our focus is to ensure that our international law obligations are properly aligned to domestic law”. He felt that “We should be able to facilitate dialogue in conflict resolution. We should be able to host conflicting parties.”
He also said that certain laws of the ICC were in conflict with South Africa’s obligations to the African Union (AU) to grant its heads of state immunity.
Where does this leave us, as citizens of a supposed democratically idolized state?
Furthermore, Ray Hartley of The Rand Daily Mail asks: “Why would a democratic government which has nothing to fear from the ICC withdraw from this body?” One theory is that Zuma may be preempting his own trial before the court.
“Think about events at Marikana. If it were established that the chain of command ordering the cold-blooded execution of mine workers ran up to government, would Zuma not be liable for “crimes against humanity consisting of murder”? Would Zuma not then be the subject of a warrant of arrest?”
What of the police brutality in the form of 13 rubber bullets in the back of a surrendering, unarmed student?
It is important to keep in mind that SA will still be legally binded to uphold ICC laws for the next 12 months, and that the DA’s injunction might very well be successful.
South Africa follows violence-ridden Burundi as the second African nation to apply for withdrawal from the ICC.
Feature image via pinterest.