POLITICS

How 6 Former Constitutional Court Justices Hope To Make History In Parliament

South Africa should not withdraw from the International Criminal Court but rather try to effect reforms, they said.

08/03/2017 10:45 SAST | Updated 09/03/2017 10:00 SAST

In what could be a first in South Africa's democratic Parliament, six retired Constitutional Court justices and a former United Nations high commissioner have filed a submission on why this country should not withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In fact, South Africa should lead in trying to persuade the rest of Africa to reform the ICC from within.

South Africa on Tuesday night sent a note verbale to the UN withdrawing its former notice of withdrawal from the ICC, because a court ruled that the right process wasn't followed the first time.

Last month, the High Court in Pretoria ruled that government's decision to withdraw from the ICC was unconstitutional and invalid. Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo said President Jacob Zuma and the ministers of justice and international relations were ordered to withdraw the notice of withdrawal.

Retired justice Zak Yacoob said on Wednesday a campaign for South Africa to stay in the ICC would not end, even if South Africa follows all the processes and withdrew from the ICC anyway.

"Then we start our campaign to persuade South Africa to join again," Yacoob said.

Yacoob spoke on behalf of his former colleagues, Laurie Ackermann, Richard Goldstone, Johann Kriegler, Yvonne Mokgoro and Kate O'Regan, as well as former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and former ICC judge Navi Pillay. The International Commission of Jurists also joined in compiling the submission, which was made to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services.

"South Africa should actively encourage other African states to put in place legislation required to empower domestic courts with the ability to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"South Africa should work constructively with civil society on the advancement of international criminal justice," their report read.

Yacoob said reforms were necessary in the way the ICC worked because some members of the U.N. Security Council who are not signatories to the Rome Statute that make them part of the ICC, still have veto powers over who the ICC can prosecute.

He said the fact that the retired justices were making their submission to Parliament showed "we still have faith in the democratic process. We still believe that if a matter is properly drawn to Parliament's attention, they will take into account the spirit in which we prepared the summons."

Yacoob said he hoped the ANC MPs would take this submission into account when they go to their party's policy conference in June, but "if circumstances warrant, we do not exclude the possibility of negotiating directly with the ANC".

Wednesday is the last day for parliamentary submissions about South Africa's intended withdrawal from the ICC.

On October 21, Justice Minister Michael Masutha told reporters that South Africa had initiated the process of withdrawing from the ICC by notifying the United Nations of its intention to revoke its ratification of the Rome Statute, the ICC's founding treaty. It would take a year for the decision to come into effect.

The decision followed several court judgments that the government violated the law by not arresting Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir during his visit to South Africa for an African Union summit in June last year.

The ICC had issued warrants for his arrest and wanted him to stand trial on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.