Is South Africa planning to pull out of the ICC?

Monday, October 19, 2015 - 13:11

By Niklas Jakobsson

Ever since Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir landed on South African soil this summer, the International Criminal Court and the South African government have been on a collision course. Last week the two finally collided as South Africa announced its intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute.

The collision has been widely anticipated and didn’t come as a big surprise to a lot of people. South Africa has been increasingly distancing itself from the court since the Bashir debacle. It was also searing in its criticism of the ICC, claiming the Court has lost its direction.

According to South Africa's ruling party, the ANC, the withdrawal from the Court will be ‘fast-tracked’ through the national parliament. But because of South Africa nationalising the Rome Statute there seems to be a longer process to leave the Court than just handing in a sheet of paper to the UN Secretary General.

The potential departure of South Africa from the ICC could have further implications. The Court has been criticised for being anti-African and only pursuing African leaders. This has led to a large amount of criticism from several African states as well as the African Union. So is this the beginning of a mass withdrawal from the ICC?

Once (or if) South Africa leaves the Court, it will also lose any influence it might have on the Assembly of States Parties. The annual assembly is where states have the ability to highlight issues and push for reforms at the institutional level. However, non-state parties have a limited role on the fringes of the assembly. And it’s unclear how a former states party would be treated in this type of setting. So when South Africa has to deal with the battle of the Bashir debacle, will they limit themselves to doing so in front of the judges and not in the political arena?

It’s clear from the Rome Statute that when a country withdraws from the Court, all legal proceedings and existing financial obligations will still remain. So stepping out of the club could leave South Africa vulnerable to changes which will then be out of its control. But as someone told me on Twitter, at that point it will most likely just be a show for the gallery. There will not be any mechanism to enforce any of the decisions made relating to South Africa. And looking at how they handled the al-Bashir issue, the current mechanisms aren’t even efficient.


  • Is it wise for a country to leave the ICC?
  • What consequences will this have for South Africa?
  • Do you think that South Africa will follow through with its withdrawal threat? 

The Weekly Hubble features the most popular or controversial international justice story of the past week and reactions on social media to the news. 

Emanuele del Rosso is a cartoonist who works for Justice Hub. 

abdu Zango

They shouldn't have joined it in the first place. It's a mockery of justice and an affront to the people of the world.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 - 00:36
Niklas Jakobsson
Niklas Jakobsson

But for me this looks more like a statement of intent than a threat, especially when looking at the statements that have been made from South Africa's side. Threats have been made a few times - but always less direct than this. However, I personally believe that the SA government stand to lose too much from leaving the court. Maybe it's a bluff to get influence at the ASP!? Interested to hear what you mean when you talk about "regroup"?

Monday, October 19, 2015 - 22:33

I dont believe South Africa will follow through with it treat. However, this has to sound as a warning of the probility that if the ICC doesnt regroup there will be a significant number of countries living the court.

Monday, October 19, 2015 - 16:39