SOUTH AFRICA AND THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT
There is an ongoing debate about whether South Africa should withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ANC resolved at a conference earlier this month that the government should do exactly that. It would be unfortunate given the role South Africa, and specifically Nelson Mandela and Dulah Omar played in the establishment of the ICC. It is clearly not a desirable situation in a country where democracy is beginning to show serious cracks.
THE FUNCTION OF THE ICC
The ICC is the world’s first permanent independent tribunal. It was established in 2002 to end the exemption from punishment for the worst crimes under international law. The crimes include genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression.
The ICC prosecute individuals against whom allegations were filed by other individuals, or cases referred by the UN Security Council.
WHY THE ICC IS IMPORTANT
This court is the only credible avenue of justice for so many victims in many different countries. Victims’ lack of political power means that, having failed to protect them, governments often ignore their demands for justice, truth and reparation in order to protect those in power and their interests.
IMPLICATIONS FOR SOUTH AFRICA
- South Africans would no longer have the ICC’s protection in the event of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes occurring by and against its citizens, including elsewhere in the world.
- The court has the mandate to step in and deliver some measure of justice to victims when national authorities refuse or are unable to act.
- South Africa’s efforts to transform the United Nations Security Council would be severely affected by withdrawal from the ICC.
- Withdrawing from the court would affect the country’s international status.
- There may be implications for South Africa’s diplomatic ambitions, such as gaining a seat on the Security Council.
- It can be seen as undermining the independence and the ability of the Court and its Prosecutor to pursue justice.
Although the withdrawal proposition was made by the ANC, the government has not decided on it yet. South Africans should hope that common sense will prevail.