South Africa


South Africa’s ICC plans should become clearer at international talk shop

Presiding judge Cuno Tarfusser of Italy (C), judge Chang-ho Chung of Korea (R), and judge Marc Perrin de Brichambautat of France (L), in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, 06 July 2017. EPA/Evert Elzinga

South Africa’s intention to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) – or not – should become clearer at an international justice seminar in Cape Town on Wednesday.

South African Justice Minister Michael Masutha is due to address an international justice seminar in Cape Town on Wednesday, organised by Germany’s Wayamo Foundation and the Africa Group for Justice and Accountability (AGJA).

South Africa’s former Constitutional Court judges Navi Pillay and Richard Goldstone are to speak at the seminar, among several other prominent local and international jurists and legal experts. Pillay was also an ICC judge as well as UN Human Rights Commissioner while Goldstone was chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Masutha introduced the International Crimes Bill to Parliament to withdraw SA from the ICC, in December 2017. Later that month the ANC confirmed at its conference at Nasrec that it wanted SA to pull out of the ICC, based at The Hague, Netherlands.

The decision to withdraw was precipitated by the fallout the SA government had with the ICC when it failed to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, an indicted fugitive from the ICC, as he visited SA in 2015 to attend an African Union summit.

However, officials say President Cyril Ramaphosa is not keen to pull SA out of the ICC, fearing it might tarnish the country’s reputation when he is trying to revive the economy by attracting international investors. The International Crimes Bill is still in the parliamentary pipeline.

Masutha, a Zuma appointee, is however understood to remain keen to remove SA from the ICC. His draft bill before Parliament proposes to replace the current law implementing the Rome Statute of the ICC, with new legislation to realise SA’s commitment to international criminal justice.

Crucially, though, this new legislation would give immunity against prosecution to heads of state and government. It was the ICC’s refusal to grant such immunity to al-Bashir that led to its clash with SA, which has been pushing for the ICC to grant such immuity.

The seminar organisers note that with the introduction of the International Crimes Bill, SA’s commitment to international criminal justice and the ICC “is now under discussion”.

Other topics to be discussed would be the UN Security Council’s role in international criminal justice and particularly its role in the granting or denying of immunity to heads of state. Another topic will be domestic and hybrid justice for core international crimes.

Masutha, AGJA chairperson Hassan Jallow, who is also Gambia’s chief justice, and James Stewart, deputy ICC prosecutor, will open the seminar.

Speakers will include:

  • South African High Court advocate Max du Plessis;
  • Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre;
  • Mathole Motshekga, chairperson of the SA parliamentary justice portfolio committee;
  • Stephen Rapp, former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues in the office of Global Criminal Justice;
  • Dire Tladi, professor of law at University of Pretoria and former legal adviser to the SA government;
  • Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch;
  • Lami Omale of the African Union Commission;
  • Netsanet Belay of Amnesty International;
  • Sarah Kasande of the International Centre for Transitional Justice;
  • Ottilia Maunganidze of the Institute for Security Studies; and
  • Geraldine Okafor of the Nigerian federal justice ministry. DM

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