In Brief

South Africa threatens to leave ICC over Bashir scandal

Government officials may face criminal charges for failing to arrest Sudan's president for war crimes

The South African government has said it would consider leaving the International Criminal Court following a row over its failure to arrest Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir last week.

Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide and war crimes, fled South Africa after attending an African Union summit despite a court order barring him from leaving the country.

His departure led many to accuse the South African government of flouting international law by failing to uphold its legal obligations to the ICC. A number of senior government officials now face possible criminal charges for their role in facilitating his departure.

Today the government, which argued that Bashir held diplomatic immunity at the summit and so could not be arrested, has announced that it is reviewing its membership of the international court. It says it needs to establish how to "balance its obligations to the ICC with its obligations to the AU and individual states".

There are growing calls for Pretoria to cut ties with the international court, reports the South African Times. Earlier this week, the secretary general of the ruling ANC called the ICC "dangerous" and urged the government to withdraw from it.

Africa and the ICC have a notoriously troubled relationship, with the AU arguing that the organisation is biased against its members. It has advised African leaders not to co-operate with the court – despite the majority of African nations being ICC signatories.

If South Africa did decide to withdraw from the international court, it would become the first country in the world officially to do so, causing damage to its international reputation.

"First South Africa lets a mass murderer go; now it threatens to let go of the very idea of international justice," tweeted Andrew Stroehlein, media director at Human Right Watch.

But removing the Rome Statute from South African law would not end the country's obligations to the ICC immediately, points out the Mail and Guardian's associate editor Phillip de Wet. 

Withdrawal from the ICC would not be immediate as it requires a minimum notice period of one year, during which time South Africa would be legally obliged to fulfil its commitments to the court.

 

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