Rather than undermine South Africa’s international reputation, Ramaphosa has a unique and rare opportunity to enhance it; it is up to him to seize this chance.
The introduction of the International Crimes Bill before the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services, two weeks ago, signals steadfast resolve to eventually withdraw from the Rome Statute. Is South Africa dismantling its own international criminal justice framework for one man who they will, despite withdrawal, still be legally obligated to arrest and surrender for as long as he remains wanted by the International Criminal Court?
Justice Minister Michael Masutha has admitted that the Brics summit in Johannesburg last month “almost collapsed” because a group of South African lawyers threatened legal action against some heads of state attending the gathering.
Differences within government and the ANC about South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court could mean that the parliamentary process now under way might yet come to naught – but don’t expect much open debate on this before next year’s general elections.
South Africa could help counter the global vacuum of respect for international law by supporting the International Criminal Court, says former Justice Richard Goldstone, who with Judge Navi Pillay has urged Justice Minister Michael Masutha not to withdraw the country from The Hague-based court.
Strong views were expressed at a seminar on South Africa and the ICC in Cape Town last week that South Africa should remain in the court. This is to both bolster international justice when it is under threat and to prove to the world – after the Zuma era – that South Africa remains committed to the rule of law. The seminar was organised by the Wayamo Foundation and the Africa Group for Justice and Accountability.
Remaining an ICC member would not mean South Africa agrees with every action the court takes or every aspect of the court’s functioning.
A case now under way before the ICC’s appeals chamber and a possible International Court of Justice ruling raise hopes of mending the damaging rift between the International Criminal Court and South Africa.