South Africa’s intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Time to seriously consider an African alternative?Posted: 28 October, 2016
Author: Rodger Owiso
LLB – Nairobi, PGD Law – KSL
While the decision by South Africa to commence the formal process of withdrawing from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is shocking, honest observers will admit it was not entirely unforeseen. African countries through the African Union (AU) have long voiced misgivings about the International Criminal Court (ICC) and it was just a matter of time before the usually slow-moving AU clock started ticking. The AU had earlier this year urged its members to consider withdrawing from the Rome Statute. This was triggered by the refusal by the United Nations Security Council and the ICC to accede to the AU’s requests for suspension or termination of the cases against Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.
While South Africa’s decision should be condemned, nothing much is likely to come of such condemnation. Treaties are a product of state consent and it follows that withdrawal is equally a unilateral act of the state. Even if an argument could be advanced against such unilateralism, the process is still a political one which rests almost entirely with the political class, at least in imperfect democracies. South Africa’s move is likely to embolden other African countries to commence similar processes. South Africa is Africa’s biggest economy and the AU’s largest member contributor. It is also arguably one of Africa’s better-off imperfect democracies. For these reasons, it is often the case in continental affairs that other African countries hold on to their cards until South Africa plays after which they emerge from their cocoons and play theirs in more or less similar fashion. With the possible exception of ‘righteous’ Botswana and perhaps Mauritius that considers itself African only when the situation suits it, the possibility that other African countries will follow South Africa’s lead on the ICC cannot be ruled out. In light of such possibility, how then does Africa assure its citizens that the fight against impunity as is entrenched in its founding instrument is still top of its agenda, if at all it ever was?