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SA’s ICC exit labeled a slap in the face of human rights victims

African human rights and justice groups say SA's exit from the ICC sends the wrong message to victims.

FILE: The International Criminal Court’s building (ICC) in The Hague. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Some organisations across the African continent have described South Africa's decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a slap in the face of human rights victims.

Justice Minister Michael Masutha announced yesterday that South Africa is pulling out of the Rome Statute arguing that the move is aimed at strengthening its ability to resolve conflict on the continent.

In a joint statement released by African human rights and justice groups, they call for South Africa's withdrawal to be reviewed.

The announcement of the decision comes after the court of appeal concluded that government violated its international and domestic legal obligations in not arresting ICC fugitive and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in June last year when he visited the country.

Human Rights Watch spokesperson Dewa Mavhinga says South Africa is one of the founding members of the court, thus the announcement sends the wrong message to victims that Africa's leaders do not support their quest for justice.

"We hope South Africa will reconsider this decision because it has a long history of standing with victims of abuse and what it has done now is completely out of character. It undermines its standing regionally and globally."

Meanwhile, the European Union also shared its concern of South Africa's withdrawal from the ICC and wishes to engage with the South African government on how they could remain partners to the Rome Statute which incorporates the criminal court.

Burundi has also formalised steps to withdraw from the Rome Statute.

ANY LAWS BROKEN?

Analysts say government's withdrawal from the ICC is likely to prompt other African countries to follow suit.

Masutha announced South Africa's withdrawal from the ICC just a week after Burundi confirmed its plans to pull out.

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza has been accused of torturing and murdering his political opponents, claims he denies.

South Africa's announcement is now expected to prompt other African countries, who have accused the tribunal of a bias against the continent, to announce their own plans to withdraw.

It's also likely to bring further controversy for President Jacob Zuma, who is facing protests over high university fees and scandal over his close relationship with the Gupta brothers, who allegedly had a hand in the appointment of cabinet minister.

In its one-page notice of withdrawal delivered to the United Nations in New York, South Africa argues that the court's rulings were sometimes "incompatible" with the "peaceful resolution of conflicts".

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