Ever since Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir landed on South African soil this summer, the International Criminal Court and the South African government have been on a collision course. Last week the two finally collided as South Africa announced its intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute.
The collision has been widely anticipated and didn’t come as a big surprise to a lot of people. South Africa has been increasingly distancing itself from the court since the Bashir debacle. It was also searing in its criticism of the ICC, claiming the Court has lost its direction.
— Sophie Rigney (@sophiejrigney) October 12, 2015
According to South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, the withdrawal from the Court will be ‘fast-tracked’ through the national parliament. But because of South Africa nationalising the Rome Statute there seems to be a longer process to leave the Court than just handing in a sheet of paper to the UN Secretary General.
— Mark Kersten (@MarkKersten) October 16, 2015
The potential departure of South Africa from the ICC could have further implications. The Court has been criticised for being anti-African and only pursuing African leaders. This has led to a large amount of criticism from several African states as well as the African Union. So is this the beginning of a mass withdrawal from the ICC?
South Africa's ruling party says it will "fast-track" its move to quit ICC. Could fuel a broader African withdrawal. http://t.co/coYJEYDXuE
— Geoffrey York (@geoffreyyork) October 12, 2015
Once (or if) South Africa leaves the Court, it will also lose any influence it might have on the Assembly of States Parties. The annual assembly is where states have the ability to highlight issues and push for reforms at the institutional level. However, non-state parties have a limited role on the fringes of the assembly. And it’s unclear how a former states party would be treated in this type of setting. So when South Africa has to deal with the battle of the Bashir debacle, will they limit themselves to doing so in front of the judges and not in the political arena?
Where's the best place for South Africa to do battle with the ICC re Bashir? States' meeting or before PTC judges? https://t.co/xOeAvYBJvR
— Janet H. Anderson (@janethanderson) October 12, 2015
It’s clear from the Rome Statute that when a country withdraws from the Court, all legal proceedings and existing financial obligations will still remain. So stepping out of the club could leave South Africa vulnerable to changes which will then be out of its control. But as someone told me on Twitter, at that point it will most likely just be a show for the gallery. There will not be any mechanism to enforce any of the decisions made relating to South Africa. And looking at how they handled the al-Bashir issue, the current mechanisms aren’t even efficient.
- Is it wise for a country to leave the ICC?
- What consequences will this have for South Africa?
- Do you think that South Africa will follow through with its withdrawal threat?
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Emanuele del Rosso is a cartoonist who works for Justice Hub.