Johannesburg – A withdrawal from the Rome Statute would add to fears that South Africa was turning its back on the international rule of law, detrimental to combating possible human rights abuses on the continent, the International Commission of Jurists (ICC) said on Wednesday.
The organisation and a group of South Africa's retired jurists have made a submission against withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) to Parliament's portfolio committee on justice. ICJ director Arnold Tsonga said South Africa's withdrawal was not favourable for the rule of international law, and that there was no efficient mechanisms to tackle cases involving gross human rights abuse and genocide cases.
"ICJ notes that although South African government has suggested that crimes under international law would be handled by regional courts, there are currently no functional mechanisms in place to achieve this," Tsonag told reporters in Johannesburg.
"While regional mechanisms could be a useful complement, there are none in place today given the current status of both African Court of Justice and Human Rights and the Malabo Protocol...the prospect of a regional mechanism effectively operating in the short to medium term remains dim."
The ICJ and the jurists said even though South Africa has withdrawn its intention to leave the ICC in order to take the matter to Parliament for formal consideration, they would campaign against the move to withdraw and make sure that South Africa remained a signatory to the Roman Statute, the ICC founding treaty.
The African National Congress (ANC) led government was one of the first countries to join the Rome Statute on 17 July 1998, the day it was adopted.
Tsonga said most of the cases before the international court involving African states were referred to the court by the African states themselves. To date, the ICC has 10 cases from Africa. They included Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic and Mali, all referred to the ICC by the states concerned, who are also party to the ICC. Two cases involving Libya and Sudan were referred to the court by the United Nations Security Council in 2011 and 2005 respectively.
"In the case of Kenya, Cote d'Ivoire and Georgia, the prosecutor used her powers under the Rome Statue to investigate and eventually indict individuals including President Kenyatta, his deputy and former Cote d'Ivoire [Ivory Coast] president Laurent Gbagbo," Tsonga said.
"It should be noted that although Cote d'Ivoire had not ratified the Rome Statute when prosecutor began her work, on February 2013 it ratified the statute and therefor accepted the jurisdiction of the court."
The cases have provided hope that justice would be carried for victims of horrible crimes in the continent, while South Africa's withdrawal would turn the country into a safe haven for perpetrators of international crimes, he said.
Retired Judge Zak Yacoob said although there was a compelling argument that powerful countries as such as the United States of America, China and Russia, also permanent members of the UN Security Council but not members of the court, carried out military interventions across the world sometimes with allegations of commission of crimes and block could any attempts to be brought to ICC.
"There are powerful countries who are members of the ICC, and there are other powerful countries who are not.This is what gives rise to the perception, which is not completely true, that powerful will never be prosecuted, and we believe this is one of the reasons that gives rise to decisions for leaving the ICC. The problem is the perception that these powerful countries who are in the security council can as things stand, get away with anything," he said.
South Africa should remain at ICC, encourage other African countries to be part of the international court and lobby to transform the United Nations from within, said Yacoob.