Paul Vecchiatto and Mike Cohen

South Africa serves notice to exit International Criminal Court

South Africa served notice of its intention to withdraw from the International Criminal Court in a year’s time, after accusing the Hague-based tribunal of bias and unfairly targeting African leaders.

“The decision to exit the International Criminal Court was taken by cabinet this week,” Justice Minister Michael Masutha told reporters in Pretoria on Friday. “A draft law proposing that South Africa will repeal its participation in the Rome Statute will be tabled in Parliament soon.”

African nations have criticized the Hague-based ICC, which tries individuals for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, because nine of the ten investigations it has opened since its formation in 2002 are on the continent. South African President Jacob Zuma has questioned why the ICC didn’t act against the U.S. for attacking Iraq on the pretext that it had weapons of mass destruction that were never found, or against Israel for crimes committed against Palestinians. Burundi also issued a decree this week to withdraw from the court.

South Africa refused to arrest Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir, who has been indicted twice for war crimes and genocide by the ICC, when he attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg last year. The government argued that it couldn’t arrest al-Bashir because he was in the country for an event that fell under the African Union’s jurisdiction.

War Crimes

The Rome Statute is in conflict with international immunity laws, Masutha said.

Al-Bashir has ruled Sudan for quarter of a century since taking power in a military coup. The ICC indicted him in 2009 and 2010 for his role in atrocities in Sudan’s western Darfur region, where insurgents took up arms in 2003. As many as 300,000 people have died in the conflict, mainly from illness and starvation, according to the United Nations.

South Africa’s main opposition Democratic Alliance plans to challenge the government’s decision to withdraw from the ICC in court “on the grounds that it is unconstitutional, irrational and procedurally flawed,” the party said in an e-mailed statement.

“In a constitutional democracy such as ours, we cannot accept an executive that is no longer committed to the fight against genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the DA said.