South Africa has become the second nation in a week to signal its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court over its failure to arrest a Sudanese warlord, according to leaked papers.
No country has ever left the court, which is pursuing President al-Bashir of Sudan over alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. South Africa has long threatened to leave if it is compelled to arrest Mr al-Bashir and has reportedly followed Burundi in making good on its warning.
South Africa is obliged as a party to the ICC to arrest anyone sought by the tribunal but Johannesburg says this conflicts with its obligations to the African Union.
President al-Bashir left South Africa without arrest when he attended an African Union summit in June 2015, despite awaiting a decision on whether he should be detained. The union has said it will not compel its member states to arrest a leader on the court’s behalf.
South Africa’s “instrument of withdrawal” obtained by the Associated Press yesterday was signed by the foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
It states that South Africa “has found that its obligations with respect to the peaceful resolution of conflicts at times are incompatible with the interpretation given by the International Criminal Court of obligations contained in the Rome Statute.” The statute compells party nations to the ICC to arrest anyone sought for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.
It was announced on Tuesday that President Nkurunziza of Burundi signed legislation to withdraw from the ICC, which wants to investigate political violence over his intention to seek a third term.
Rights groups warned that withdrawls could cause a dangerous domino effect across Africa.
“It’s important both for South Africa and the region that this runaway train be slowed down,” said Dewa Mavhinga, senior researcher of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division.
“Questions remain about whether the government even acted in line with its own laws for leaving the court.”
The UN has not confirmed or denied receiving a withdrawal notice from South Africa.