Monday 03, April 2017 by Matthew Amlôt

South Africa reverses withdrawal from ICC

South Africa has revoked its decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court following High Court ruling.

South Africa had originally announced its intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in October 2016. However a recent ruling by the High Court declared the move “unconstitutional and invalid”.


A statement released on the matter has not made it clear though as to whether the Government has abandoned its plans to leave the ICC altogether, or if alternative routes to exit are being explored. The high court also added that any further attempt to leave the international court would also require the approval of Parliament.


Two other African nations also announced plans to leave the court in 2016, Burundi and The Gambia—although The Gambia has since reversed this decision earlier in 2017. Furthermore, a January 2017 meeting of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia called for a “strategy of collective withdrawal” from the ICC.


Recent backlash from the African continent against the ICC falls in lines with accusations often made that the international court is biased against African states. In addition, arguments have also been made that the court violates the sovereignty of nations—the 2013 AU summit decided that the ICC case against Kenyan leaders during investigations into political mass violence prior to the 2007 Kenyan elections violated the country’s sovereignty.


One of the three main reasons given by the South African Cabinet for the decision to withdraw from the ICC, in addition to aforementioned belief of the court’s African bias, was a desire to preserve the diplomatic immunity for incumbent leaders, along with incompatibilities between the court and South Africa’s diplomatic mandate.


The particular argument over preservation of diplomatic immunity for foreign leaders came to a head for the South African Government in 2015 during the visit of the incumbent Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir. Al-Bashir is subject to an ICC arrest warrant on charges of international crimes, including genocide, in Sudan’s Darfur region. Despite this he was allowed to leave South Africa before an arrest could be made.


Overall, time will tell if the Zuma Government continue to push for a South African exit from the ICC. Should this eventually occur, the ICC could face a potential mass exodus of African countries, significantly weakening the organisation’s mandate on the continent. Criticism of the ICC should not be ignored either and the court needs to fix the problems within its own structure and mindset.