South Africa will withdraw from the Hague-based International Criminal Court, media reports in Johannesburg said Friday, sparking rapid criticism from rights bodies.
A document confirming the withdrawal plan, signed by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, was published by public broadcaster SABC’s United Nations correspondent.
The decision follows a dispute last year when South Africa allowed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to visit the country for an African Union summit, despite him facing an arrest warrant from the ICC.
South Africa said he had immunity as the head of a member state.
The ICC wants Bashir arrested for alleged war crimes related to the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.
South Africa’s proposed withdrawal “shows startling disregard for justice from a country long seen as a global leader on accountability for victims of the gravest crimes,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
“It’s important both for South Africa and the region that this runaway train be slowed down and South Africa’s hard-won legacy of standing with victims of mass atrocities be restored.”
– Bias against Africa? –
Earlier this month Burundi said it would withdraw from the court, and Namibia and Kenya have also raised the possibility.
Some African governments say the ICC has shown a post-colonial bias against the continent’s leaders.
The decision by South Africa not to arrest Bashir last year led to a wave of condemnation, which was met with a threat from Pretoria to withdraw from the court.
The Sudanese leader has evaded arrest since his indictment in 2009 for alleged crimes in the Darfur conflict in which 300,000 people were killed and two million forced to flee their homes.
This month, the ICC found former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba and four aides guilty of bribing witnesses.
The case at the court in The Hague was the first such corruption trial in its history.
The ICC was set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst atrocities which national courts cannot handle, but has struggled with alleged witness interference and lack of government cooperation.
Its chief prosecutor also recently sent a team to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to urge restraint after weeks of deadly unrest.
South Africa, which was due to hold a press conference in Pretoria on Friday about the court, would be the first country to withdraw from the ICC.
The United States has signed the court’s founding treaty, but never ratified it.