South Africa has begun the process of withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC), Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha confirmed on Friday.
A written notice has been submitted to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and the withdrawal will take effect one year after the secretary general receives notification, Masutha told a press briefing in Pretoria.
If successful, South Africa will be the second African country, following Burundi, to quit the ICC, which is often perceived as being biased against African states.
South Africa is hindered by the Rome Statute under which the ICC was established, Masutha explained, adding that the Rome Statute compels SA to arrest people who may enjoy diplomatic immunity but who are wanted by the ICC.
He was referring to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who is wanted by the ICC for alleged anti-humanity crimes. South Africa rejected a request by the ICC to arrest al-Bashir when he was attending the 25th African Union Summit in Johannesburg in June, 2015.
The South African government argued that in addition to complying with its obligations to the ICC, the country has obligations to the AU, which rules that no organization can arrest any sitting head of state in African countries.
Masutha said implementation of the Rome Statute is in conflict and inconsistent with provisions of the country’s Diplomatic Immunities & Privileges Act.
“Our focus is to ensure that international law obligations are properly aligned with our domestic law, without the uncertainties and contradictions that exist,” the minister said.
He said South Africa has made drawn-out efforts to get the al-Bashir issue resolved, but has not been successful.
“We need to put this matter to rest, and move on as a country, promoting peace and prosperity in Africa. We can’t do this as long as we have this legal impediment,” Masutha said.
He said Africa is in process of strengthening its own human rights instruments.
“Our commitment is to continue to work closely with like-minded countries at AU level to ensure that SA continues to be beacon of light in the promotion of human rights here and in the rest of the world,” he noted.
South Africa remains committed to fighting for human rights and will continue to actively promote dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts in the country and elsewhere, Masutha added.
Also on Friday, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in Parliament said South Africa’s decision to withdraw from the ICC cannot be cleared without approval from the National Legislature.
Masutha said a bill proposing the repeal of the implementation of the Rome Statute will soon be tabled in parliament.
On Tuesday, Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza signed legislation to make his country the first to withdraw from the ICC, which wants to investigate recent political violence in the country.
The ICC was established to prosecute cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.