SA's position in Africa regarding ICC exaggerated – ISS

2018-07-06 11:33


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The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has said that there was likely no major shift in how the South African government was seen on the continent after it emerged on Wednesday that it wanted to reevaluate its position on its proposed International Criminal Court (ICC) exit.

According to a News24 report, International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu hinted that the government might reconsider the controversial decision.

Sisulu did not mention former president Jacob Zuma by name, but told journalists that the decision that was taken "under the previous administration" could be reviewed. 

She said it was back on Cabinet's agenda with a view that South Africa could do more to change the skewed bias against Africa in the ICC if it remained a part to the Rome Statute.

An AFP report said that South Africa in 2015 dealt a major blow to the ICC by announcing it would withdraw from the court.

The announcement followed a dispute on its failure to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he visited the country despite being the subject of an ICC arrest warrant over alleged war crimes.

Each country chooses

The ICC, set up in 2002, is often accused of bias against Africa and has also struggled with a lack of cooperation, including from the United States, which has signed the court's treaty but never ratified it.

In an interview with News24, the head of special projects at the ISS, Ottilia Anna Maunganidze, said South Africa's influence on the rest of the continent was often overstated.

"South Africa's positioning on the continent as a 'leader' on international justice issues may be a bit overstated. Even after the 2016 notice to withdraw, while other countries signalled their intent, there was no actual action as follow-up.

"At the end of the day, each country chooses to stay or withdraw individually, and exercises a sovereign right in doing so. It is unlikely that this shift in position will have a wider effect to other countries," said Maunganidze.

Reports indicated that two African states, South Africa and Burundi, had made official decisions to leave the ICC in 2016.

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza signed legislation to allow the east African country to withdraw from the ICC. 

Criticism over prosecution of African leaders

Burundi's decision to quit the Hague-based court followed a bitter dispute with the international community over the human rights situation in the country.

Burundi was thrown into deadly violence after Nkurunziza's controversial decision to pursue a third term in 2015.

Although Burundi has officially left the court, South Africa was blocked by a court decision that said it should first table the matter before the legislation house. 

A number of African countries have in recent years also threatened to pull out of the ICC, with Namibia also passing a referendum to pull out of the court.

Former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, whose country was not a signatory to the Rome statute, has in the past been quoted criticising the ICC over its prosecution of African leaders.

Mugabe was quoted as saying it was high time Africa set up a criminal court which would seek justice for "serious" war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the West, particularly during the colonial era.

Ramaphosa won't 'rock the boat'

However, some countries, including Malawi, lambasted the veteran leader, saying that the continent could not afford to leave the international court.

"The AU (African Union) adopted a strategy on engagement on the ICC – not a call for mass pull-out, because several African countries rejected a call for mass withdrawal that would compromise sovereignty [if it did]," said Maunganidze. 

She added that President Cyril Ramaphosa's government was likely not going to rock the boat as it was leading on consensus.

She said that the proposed amendment by his government would likely not come before the country's election in 2019.

"It remains an issue within government and the ruling party. The Ramaphosa administration has to rule with consensus, therefore it is likely not going to introduce that decision now," said Maunganidze. 

News24 had earlier reported that the ANC has said that Cabinet will have to consult the party first before reconsidering the decision to withdraw from the ICC. 

The ANC's head of elections Fikile Mbalula was quoted as saying the decision to withdraw was an ANC decision. It was later confirmed at the December elective conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg.

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Read more on:    international criminal court  |  omar al bashir  |  fikile mbalula  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  jacob zuma  |  malawi  |  burundi  |  namibia  |  zimbabwe  |  south africa  |  africa

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