Could South Africa’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court undermine President Cyril Ramaphosa’s $100bn foreign investment drive?
Richard Calland, associate professor on constitutional law at the University of Cape Town, posed this question at a symposium on international justice organised by the Wayamo Foundation and the Africa Group for Justice and Accountability on Wednesday.
Calland told the symposium that investors he interacted with as an analyst were concerned about seeing South Africa “resuming its place as leader in the league of nations”.
Investors wanted to see South Africa being “a responsible member of the international community”, he said, which would contribute to attracting investment.
He urged government, represented by at the symposium by Justice Minister Michael Masutha, to “reflect on the unintended consequences of this step (of withdrawal)”.
“How would this step of withdrawing from the ICC help the most vulnerable and marginalised members of the community?” he said.
Calland said a lot has changed since 2015 when South Africa’s position on withdrawal was cemented by the debacle around Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s attendance of the African Union summit in Johannesburg. South Africa, as a party to the Rome Statute, should have arrested him as Al-Bashir faces charges related to genocide and crimes against humanity.
“International law and order is under vicious attack and the forces of nationalism and populism are growing around the world,” Calland said with reference to indications that United States president Donald Trump wants to withdraw from the World Trade Organisation, a body meant to settle international trade disputes using a rules-based system.
“Multilateralism, and the idea of multilateralism, is at the heart of the ANC and close to the heart of the South African government since 1994, and it seems to me this is the moment to step up and defend multilateralism,” he said, adding it was best if South Africa remained a member of the ICC “club” and made its voice heard from within.
Masutha replied by saying that legal pressure on South Africa to arrest sitting heads of state like Al-Bashir created diplomatic difficulties, as it potentially deterred other heads of state who might face similar charges or allegations from attending summits in South Africa.
He said it wasn’t “just about our quest to promote peace in Africa and elsewhere, but it’s also about the reality that we are part of a global community and part of a global society, who are concerned with advancing development international objectives that promote our own domestic interest”.
* Sign up to Fin24's top news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO FIN24 NEWSLETTER