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Disappointment as South Africa exits International Criminal Court

(DW/DPA/Mark Caldwell/SifaNews)  Rights groups and political commentators have expressed disappointment at the decision by South Africa to quit the International Criminal Court (ICC), calling it an uncharacteristic disregard for justice.

The country announced on Friday that it would withdraw from the ICC and the United Nations (UN) has confirmed receipt of the withdrawal notice on the same day.

South Africa is one of the 34 African countries that signed and ratified the Statute of Rome, a document that paved the way to the establishment of the ICC in 2002.

Justice Minister Michael Masutha told reporters in Pretoria that the ICC was “inhibiting South Africa’s ability to honor its obligations relating to the granting of diplomatic immunity”.

Many African leaders, including dictators and long serving heads of state, claim that the ICC is being used by the West to settle scores with African leaders. The ICC denies the allegation.

The shocking decision, which has reportedly been taken without Parliament’s consultation, comes the same week after violence-hit Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza signed into law the bill allowing his country to exit the Hague-based tribunal.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is appalled by the move, saying that South Africa was not living up to its own high standards.

“The ICC withdrawal shows startling disregard for justice from a country long seen as a global leader on accountability for victims of the gravest crimes,” HRW’s Africa division senior researcher Dewa Mavhinga said

But whereas tiny Burundi remains locked in turmoil and spattered with allegations of rights abuses as its president clings to power, South Africa is seen as one the continent’s top democratic powerhouses.

Independent political analyst Ralph Mathekga told DW South Africa had benefited from the solidarity shown by the international community in the fight against apartheid injustices.

“So for South Africa to take a position where it withdraws from this important instrument – for me – I think it amounts to betrayal of the history of this country,” he said.

South Africa’s decision to leave the ICC came after a dispute last year when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited the country for an African Union summit.

Bashir faces an ICC arrest warrant over alleged war crimes in Darfur, but South Africa refused to arrest him when he was on its soil, saying he had immunity as a head of state.

Photo: The International Criminal Court headquarters in the Hague, the Netherlands. credit: DW/DPA

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