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What does South Africa leaving the International Criminal Court mean?

What does South Africa leaving the International Criminal Court mean?

Recently, South Africa announced it was following through with plans to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC). As the Guardian reports:

“The ICC’s obligations are inconsistent with domestic laws giving sitting leaders diplomatic immunity, the country’s justice minister, Michael Masutha, said.

“Pretoria said last year it planned to leave the ICC after receiving criticism for ignoring a court order to arrest the visiting Sudanese president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is accused of genocide and war crimes. Bashir has denied the accusations.”

It is the second African country, after Burundi, making room to leave the ICC within the same week

Human rights groups around the world have condemned this recent move and there are concerns this spells a trend that will make other African countries leave.

Human Rights Watch condemned the move, claiming South Africa is abdicating its responsibility as a leader in standing up for justice on the world’s tage. The Court is the only one in the world that has been mildly successful at getting many countries, around the world, to uphold legal structures that target particular crimes. South Africa itself ratified the ICC’s the Rome Statute, making it central to its own domestic legal framework.

To now turn around and find the court a nuisance speaks highly of ongoing concerns that the law is being ignored in favour of benefitting the powerful

Many have expressed issues with the ICC before, from an African perspective. For example, there are assertions the ICC targets African countries more than others. George Bush and others who have been accused of war crimes walk free, while the ICC sets its sights on Africa and its crimes. Yet, last year, Africa Check reported extensively on many of these claims, finding them to be wanting in terms of substantive criticism of the ICC. For example, “the majority of ICC cases have been referred to it by African governments themselves.” The calls are coming from inside the house, in other words.

As Angela Mudukuti, an international criminal justice lawyer, pointed out:

“The implications of withdrawing from the Rome Statute and repealing the Implementation Act are serious. Victims of international crimes will have no international access to justice and will find themselves before domestic courts that have no domestic framework governing the prosecution of these crimes, given that the Act could be obliterated. It is the ordinary citizens who will continue to pay the price for this brazen disregard for international criminal justice and human rights.”

Earlier this year, other legal experts noted “The African voting bloc was pivotal in bringing the ICC into being.” They conclude that the implications could be devastating. “If South Africa decides to leave the ICC and in doing so leads an African exodus, the ICC may be irreparably damaged. This will only serve the interests of major western powers who have never supported the ICC.”

The average person must care about this recent move by the South African government

It’s concerning on a number of levels, not least of which involves the undermining of law and processes meant to be central to the democratic process – as well as proper legal obligations. Citizens should always be concerns when their governments make moves such as this, which do little to hide that only the most powerful are benefitting while dangers for everyone else increases.