South Africa’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court has in no way dented the country’s image, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said on Tuesday, before accusing the Hague-based court of being intrinsically unfair.
She told a Cabinet cluster briefing in Cape Town that was evidenced by South Africa’s reelection with 173 votes to the United Nations Human Rights Council in October.
“The global community still believes in us, as their 173 votes show.”
Nkoana-Mashabane said the ICC was never meant “to be the first port of call but the last” in bringing perpertrators of human rights abuses to justice. Countries are supposed to approach the ICC once an approach first to domestic and then to regional courts had failed.
She cited the conviction of former Chadian ruler Hissene Habre by an African Union-backed court in Senegal of crimes against humanity.
He was convicted of rape, sexual slavery and ordering killings during his rule from 1982 to 1990 and sentenced to life in prison.
The verdict marked the first time that a court set up by the pan-African body had tried a former ruler on the continent for human rights abuses.
Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa’s constitution was read widely as proof that it respected human rights.
“We will never condone impunity and so will no other African country.”
She accused the ICC of “ignoring” a South African delegation dispatched to The Hague during the visit of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir last year that has prompted Pretoria to signal it would withdraw from the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the international court.
Pretoria at the time ignored a high court order that Bashir not be allowed to leave the country, earning the government a tongue-lashing from the bench.
The ICC has in the meantime announced that it would hold a public hearing in April 2017 on South Africa’s failure to heed its request to arrest Bashir in line with its commitments under the statute.
Bashir is wanted by the ICC in connection with alleged war crimes committed in Sudan’s Darfur region.
South Africa’s decision to withdraw is being challenged in court by the Democratic Alliance. In argument, counsel for the government has argued that the decision was taken to safeguard South Africa’s peace initiatives on the continent, as it would lose trust and standing if it were to arrest the rulers of sovereign African states.
Nkoana-Mashabane raised the same argument at Tuesday’s briefing, adding that the ICC was doomed to being viewed as biased in favour of Western states as it failed to apply the same standards to all nations.
She noted the failure of China and the United States, permanent UN Security Council members, to sign the Rome Statute.
“How do you remove the nature of unfairness of the ICC globally? It will not go away,” she said, adding that there was a need to interpret clauses of the Rome Statute differently and that South Africa had repeatedly voiced it, including in the case of Bashir’s visit.
– African News Agency