01/02/2017 08:12 SAST | Updated 01/02/2017 08:45 SAST

African Leaders Have A Strategy For Leaving The ICC

As South Africa pushes for the Rome Statute of the ICC Act Repeal Bill, AU countries have adopted a strategy to leave collectively.

Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

News24 reported on Wednesday that African leaders adopted a strategy behind closed doors calling for a collective withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The non-binding happened on Tuesday near the end of an African Union (AU) summit, the site reports.

It is the latest expression of impatience by African leaders with the court, which some say has focused too narrowly on African issues.

News24 reports that head of Oxfam International's AU liaison office Desire Assogbavi, confirmed the adoption.

Another source close to the continental body's legal council also confirmed it, the site stated, saying countries were divided on whether to call for leaving the court individually or together. He was not authorised to speak to the press, and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Elise Keppler with Human Rights Watch says the strategy has no timeline and "few concrete recommendations for action".

Asserting rights

Meanwhile, the process to officially implement the Rome Statute of the ICC Act Repeal Bill in South Africa has gotten underway in Parliament.

The bill was introduced to the justice committee on Tuesday, with Justice Minister Michael Masutha appealing for Parliament to "assert its rights".

The committee is set to call for public comments on the bill, before it is processed in Parliament.

"As far as our understanding goes, the critical stage at which we are now is in your hands squarely. And that critical stage is where you have to exercise your parliamentary authority," Masutha said.

Masutha asked that MPs legitimise an executive decision made by the government to withdraw its membership from the ICC.

The executive has exercised its prerogative after extensive engagement, he said, and decided that South Africa will no longer be a member of the ICC.

Last year Masutha announced 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, which established the ICC.

Masutha backed by ANC MPs

The decision followed several court judgments that the government violated the law by not arresting ICC-indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during his visit to South Africa in June 2015.

Masutha on Tuesday said he could not see how a court could dictate to either the executive or Parliament choices imposed by those who "had the privilege to approach court just because they could".

"I think this Parliament, and this government, must assert its constitutional powers and rights for the good of the people of this country."

ACDP MP Steve Swart raised concerns that South Africa had been part of the delegation that had put together the implementation of the Rome Statute.

"South Africa played a key role in standing against the USA when it wanted to have a less independent court. So it's very sad that we are today sitting with this situation, which is motivated by what happened with al-Bashir," he said.

South Africa's exit could open the door for other countries to leave the ICC, he said, and it would collapse.

The call for the committee to support Cabinet's decision was backed by ANC MPs in the justice committee.