With tension mounting between the African Union and the International Criminal Court (ICC), South Africa must publicly confirm its support for the ICC and the fight against impunity for genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity, said the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) in letters to South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.
SALC sent the letters just days before an extraordinary African Union Summit on 10-11 October, which was called to discuss whether member states should withdraw from the Rome Statute that established the ICC – a move that was precipitated by the controversy over the trials of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto in relation to crimes against humanity after the December 2007 elections.
“With exemplary legislation for international crimes and a Constitution committed to human rights and justice, South Africa must speak out at the African Union summit, reaffirming its commitment to the ICC and encouraging other African governments to back the Court – and the fight against impunity for crimes against humanity,” said Angela Mudukuti, SALC’s project lawyer for international criminal justice.
“The credibility and future of the ICC is on the line. South Africa must stand up for international justice.” said Mudukuti.
The ICC’s relationship with certain African governments has come under increasing strain in the past few years with critics accusing the Court of bias and only targeting African countries. Indeed, Kenya’s parliament recently passed a motion to withdraw from the Rome Statute.
However, the majority of the cases currently before the ICC were actually brought by the countries where atrocities were committed – Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast and Mali. Two other situations, Darfur and Libya, were referred by the United Nations Security Council, with the support of its African members.
Kenya is the only country where the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC used its own investigative initiative, after obtaining authorisation from the judges of the court – and after it became clear that the international crimes committed during the post-election violence would not be properly investigated, let alone prosecuted, by the Kenyan authorities.
“African countries played a critical role in the formation of the ICC and – if countries like South Africa do not pledge their support to it now – could play a major part in its downfall,” said Mudukuti. “The only people celebrating if that happens will be the architects of the world’s worst crimes. South Africa must stand up for ordinary Africans who continue to back the ICC and, most importantly, for the victims of international crimes, who deserve to see justice done.”