South Africa: continent wide outcry at ICC withdrawal

South Africa’s announced withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a slap in the face for victims of the most serious crimes and should be reconsidered, African groups and international organizations with a presence in Africa said today. 

The groups urged other African countries to affirm their commitment to the ICC, the only court of last resort to which victims seeking justice for mass atrocities can turn.

“South Africa’s intended withdrawal from the ICC represents a devastating blow for victims of international crimes across Africa,” said Mossaad Mohamed Ali of the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies. “As South Africa is one of the founding members of the court, its announcement sends the wrong message to victims that Africa’s leaders do not support their quest for justice.”

South Africa publicly announced on October 21, 2016, that it has notified the United Nations secretary-general of its intent to withdraw from the ICC.

However, there are significant questions as to whether South Africa abided by its domestic law in withdrawing without approval of its own parliament, the groups said.

“Modern day South Africa is testament to the importance of struggle for international justice, given the history of people of South Africa supported by the international community in defeating the scourge of apartheid and systematic racism. It is inconceivable that this country is now at the forefront of efforts aimed at undermining the international framework to tackle impunity,” said Arnold Tsunga, Director of ICJ’s Africa Regional Programme.

“We call on the government of South Africa to reconsider taking this enormous backwards step in the struggle for justice and to restore its place as a leader in promoting accountability for the most serious crimes and human rights abuses,” he added.

“South Africa’s purported withdrawal – without parliamentary approval or public debate – is a direct affront to decades of progress in the global fight against impunity,” said Stella Ndirangu, from the Kenyan section of the International Commission of Jurists.

“We call on the South African government to reconsider its rash action and for other states in Africa and around the world to affirm their support for the ICC.”

“We do not believe that this attempt to withdraw from the ICC is constitutional and it is a digression from the gains made by South Africa in promoting human rights on the continent,” said Jemima Njeri of the Institute for Security Studies’ International Crime in Africa Program.

“The South African government is sending a signal that it is oblivious to victims of gross crimes globally.”

South Africa’s announcement that it will withdraw from the ICC comes after the country’s court of appeal concluded the government violated its international and domestic legal obligations in not arresting ICC fugitive Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in June 2015, when he visited South Africa.

A government appeal was pending, but on October 21, 2016, the government indicated that it has withdrawn the appeal.

“The decision by Pretoria to withdraw from the Rome Statute is a response to a domestic political situation,” said George Kegoro of the Kenya Human Rights Commission.

“Impervious to the country’s political history and the significance of the ICC to African victims and general citizenry, the South African leadership is marching the country to a legal wilderness, where South Africa will be accountable for nothing.” 

South Africa is the first country to notify the UN secretary-general of withdrawal from the ICC.


Arnold Tsunga, Director of ICJ’s Africa Regional Programme, t: +27-716-405-926 ; e:

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