26 - 10
By Lisa Vives
South Africa has taken the first steps toward withdrawing the country’s membership in the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) but it faces a tough fight from the Democratic Alliance (DA), the country’s major opposition party.
Parliamentarian James Selfe, a leading member of the DA’s legal affairs group, slammed the move which he said occurred before seeking approval from the South African parliament.
“The Democratic Alliance is disgusted at this decision. We think it sends out an entirely incorrect message around our commitment to human rights and our abhorrence of human rights abuses and of genocide…” said Selfe.
Papers to set aside the decision by the ANC are to be filed this week, he said.
The ICC was intended to complement national judicial systems. Its mandate is to hold perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity to account when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so.
But some African leaders accuse the ICC of conducting a witch hunt in Africa while overlooking the crimes of western countries, some of whom have not even signed on to the court.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were the first leaders to object to the ICC after they were charged in connection with post-election violence in 2007-08. The charges were eventually dropped for a lack of cooperating witnesses.
President Kenyatta accused the court of “race hunting” on behalf of its benefactors.
“Africa is not a third-rate territory of second-class peoples,” he said, calling for “African solutions to African problems”.
Human rights groups, however, are dismayed by South Africa’s planned exit. Human Rights Watch called it an “enormous blow to (the country’s) commitment to justice for atrocity crimes.”
“South Africa’s withdrawal would be a huge reversal of its role as a leader promoting victims’ rights and the values in its post-apartheid constitution,” said Richard Dicker, International Justice director at Human Rights Watch.
Thus far, 39 individuals (all Africans) have been indicted in the ICC which the African Union maintains is proof the courts mainly target Africans. Countries that have already withdrawn include Israel, Sudan and the United States. Burundi appears about to join this group, as does Rwanda.
This week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon weighed in, expressing regret at the decision of the South African Government and expressed hope that the country will reconsider its decision before the withdrawal takes effect.
The UN chief recalled the “significant role” played by South Africa in the establishment of the ICC which is central, he said, to global efforts to end impunity and prevent conflict.
The withdrawal will only come into effect one year after notification to the Secretary-General. w/pix of Burundi voting to withdraw from ICC