BY ROBYN DIXON
LOS ANGELES TIMES (TNS)
JOHANNESBURG – South Africa said last week that it will withdraw from the International Criminal Court, raising fears of an African exodus from a tribunal established to prosecute the worst crimes against humanity.
Human rights activists quickly expressed dismay that South Africa’s governing African National Congress, known for its iconic struggle against apartheid, had rejected the court and its central tenet that no matter how powerful the perpetrators of the worst abuses, they could still face international justice.
Simon Adams from the New York and Geneva-based Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect tweeted that it was “a terrible decision for South Africa.
“This decision strengthens the hand of mass atrocity perpetrators everywhere and lengthens the dark shadow of impunity,” he said. Adams said the struggle against apartheid in South Africa had been a global one, adding that South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela had placed human rights at the center of his country’s foreign policy when he was leader.
South Africa’s decision came after the East African nation of Burundi said it would quit the court, raising fears that some of the court’s other vehement critics in Africa, like Kenya and Uganda, would also pull out.
The ICC began operating in 2002, four years after the signing of its founding instrument, the Rome Statute. It initially had widespread support in Africa, who made up 34 of its 124 signatories (before the recent withdrawals).
But after prosecutors pursued cases against sitting presidents – Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta – African leaders began to complain that the court was biased against the continent.
One of the court’s biggest weaknesses has been its inability to arrest al-Bashir, who was indicted 11 years ago for alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.
The lack of action has been blamed, in part, on countries – including South Africa – that signed the Rome Statute and were obliged to arrest al-Bashir, yet refused to do so. Al-Bashir visited South Africa last year for an African Union summit and was able to leave the country, despite a High Court order for his arrest.
The International Criminal Court has also been weakened by the refusal of major powers such as the United States, Russia and China to join it.