Michael Masutha is the Justice and Correctional Services Minister.
PRETORIA – Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha says South Africa’s plan to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC) will enable the country to negotiate peace in conflicts in Africa more effectively.
“South Africa is hindered by the Rome Statute of the ICC which compels the country to arrest officials who also have diplomatic immunity,” Masutha told a media briefing in Pretoria on Friday morning.
Masutha said conditions in the Rome Statute conflicted with South Africa’s Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act 37 of 2001.
He said that in order to promote peace, stability and dialogue on the continent, South Africa would sometimes have to host state officials from African governments who at the same time would need to be arrested under ICC regulations.
#ICC Masutha: We wish to remain a key player in conflict resolution in Africa & what may need to happen is that we host conflicting parties.— Nickolaus Bauer (@NickolausBauer) October 21, 2016
#ICC Masutha: Thus our international legal obligations may hinder our efforts to remain a key player in conflict resolution in Africa.— Nickolaus Bauer (@NickolausBauer) October 21, 2016
Written notice to withdraw from the Rome Statue of the ICC has been submitted to the UN Secretary General.
In March this year the government lost its bid to have the North Gauteng High Court ruling that it should have arrested Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he was in the country, overturned.
Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed in the Darfur conflict, was in South Africa to attend the AU Summit in June last year.
Masutha said the government is withdrawing all legal action concerning the matter over Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
“An application for leave to appeal the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal as will now be withdrawn,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre says the government’s decision to withdraw from the ICC does not absolve it from answering to the Bashir incident.
“This decision by government by no way exonerates them from accountability,” said the centre’s executive director, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh.
“At the time when Al-Bashir arrived in the country and at the time that the Southern Litigation Centre pursued the litigation to have him arrested, all this legislation was in place and the obligations on the South African government were in place.
“They are accountable for allowing him to leave the country and not arresting him. So as far as Al- Bashir is concerned, that matter will proceed and government needs to be held accountable for that,” she said.
Masutha said the government intends to get Parliament to approve Cabinet's decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute and the ICC.
“A bill proposing the repeal of the implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act 2002, will soon be tabled in Parliament. We have already, in writing, informed the Speaker of the National Assembly and chairperson of the National Council of Provinces of this executive decision”.
The minister said that South Africa would continue to be a "beacon of light" in the promotion of human rights in Africa.
“South Africa remains committed to the fight against impunity and hold those who have committed crimes against humanity and other serious crimes accountable.
“South Africa will work together with the African Union and the other countries in Africa, to strengthen such as continental bodies such as the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, created to deal with such crimes and to prosecute the perpetrators,” he said.