South Africa has decided to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, after previously ignoring an ICC arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Reuters and The Associated Press both say they have seen a document, signed by South Africa’s foreign minister, declaring the country’s intent to withdraw. The AP reports that legislation to finalize the move has to pass South Africa’s parliament, but notes that passage of such a bill is likely.
Just days ago, Burundi became the first country ever to withdraw from the ICC. The country’s parliament overwhelmingly approved the proposal, and the president signed it into law on Tuesday.
That’s two ground-breaking moves to depart from the war crimes court in just one week. The AP notes there are concerns that more African countries will opt to leave the court given longstanding objections to the ICC’s focus on the continent — every person tried by the ICC has been African. (Other trials for war crimes and genocide have been carried out by ad hoc tribunals pulled together for a specific conflict, such as those created for Yugoslavia and Cambodia.)
“South Africa was an early supporter and advocate of the court and its withdrawal announcement marks probably the biggest setback yet for the ICC,” NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports. “Predictions say Kenya will likely be next.”
Both Burundi and South Africa have objections to the court that extend beyond its regional focus. Earlier this year, the ICC launched an investigation into killings, sexual assault and torture in Burundi, humanitarian news agency IRIN reports. Burundian officials accused the court of being an “instrument” to destabilize low-income countries.
South Africa’s departure, meanwhile, is prompted by the country’s objections to a warrant for the arrest of Bashir, who was indicted by the ICC in 2009 on charges of war crimes and genocide in Darfur.
The ICC cannot arrest individuals itself; it relies on countries who participate in the court to make arrests. And, the AP notes, it has no enforcement mechanisms to compel countries to carry out their legal obligations.
Last year, Bashir flew to South Africa for a summit. The South African government declined to arrest him, saying it had granted immunity to all heads of state at the summit.
A South African court ruled that the country was obligated to arrest Bashir, but he left the country without an arrest.
Explaining the country’s withdrawal from the court, a South African minister says the government does not want to carry out ICC arrest warrants which amount to “regime change,” the BBC reports.
Read the full report at NPR.org