International relations minister Lindiwe Sisulu has hinted that South Africa might yet flip-flop on a decision by the governing party that the country should withdraw from the International Criminal Court.
Speaking at a briefing at the Department of International Relations on Wednesday, Sisulu said the decision to leave the ICC was taken “under the previous administration”, led by former president Jacob Zuma. She said the matter “is still continuously serving before Cabinet. A final decision has not yet been taken”.
Of late there have been “other views” that South Africa could do more to change the skewed bias against Africa in the ICC if it remained a party to the Rome Statute than if it withdrew.
“Perhaps we might be married to staying in there if only to make sure that our voices are heard in the ICC,” she said.
“It is at that point that we are right now, so we are reopening the debate, we are still discussing, and when the debate is closed, it will be taken to Parliament. Either then by that, we will see if we are going forward or going back.”
Without referring to the ANC and the administration of former president Jacob Zuma by name, she said “at the point when the decision [to withdraw from the ICC]was taken, it was a unanimous decision on that matter”.
‘We might change our decision’
However, now there were other voices “that say now that the anger has gone down, why don’t we revisit the situation, and I think we are open to revisiting the situation.
“We might come up with the same decision, or we might change our decision. I’m not in a position to determine how it will come out.
“The decision to withdraw was also confirmed by an ANC resolution during its national conference in Nasrec in December, and it is unclear how this will be dealt with now.
Sisulu, however, admitted that Justice Minister Michael Masutha “is determined that this matter (i.e. withdrawal) should go on”.
The issue has, for the past few months been subject to a parliamentary process which also involved public consultations.
Masutha appeared before the Portfolio Committee of Justice and Correctional Services in Parliament last month, where he made a presentation on the International Crimes Bill, tabled in December and making provision for South Africa to repeal the Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act, 2002, which would enable South Africa to withdraw from the ICC.
‘A culture of human rights’
The South African government previously attempted to withdraw from the ICC by informing the United Nations of its intention to do so but was forced to abandon the process after a court ruled that such a decision had to go through Parliament.
South Africa’s fallout with the ICC started after a visit by Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to the country in 2015 to attend the African Union summit.
Al-Bashir is considered an international fugitive of justice and signatories to the Rome Statute, which includes South Africa, are obliged to arrest him in their countries, but this would have been politically embarrassing for South Africa.
African Union member states in January last year resolved to withdraw from the ICC as a bloc, but even Kenya, who led this campaign after its president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, were charged by the court, subsequently turned lukewarm on this.
Sisulu said when South Africa joined the ICC (in 2002), it “was to make sure that we can change the world, that we create a culture of human rights and accountability on an equal basis”.
She said the ICC ended up going after the “small fry” in Africa and ignoring the “big fry”, whom she declined to name.