14/03/2017 12:45 SAST | Updated 14/03/2017 12:46 SAST

Justice Minister Withdraws Bill That Would Take South Africa Out Of International Criminal Court

Less than a week after public submissions for ICC withdrawal bill closes, minister seems to change his mind

Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

Justice Minister Michael Masutha has withdrawn the bill that would start formal proceedings for South Africa to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.

Tuesday's parliamentary papers contained a notice to the Speaker in which Masutha said he was withdrawing the Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act Repeal Bill.

The process for public submissions on this bill closed last week. These submissions included a plea by six retired Constitutional Court judges for South Africa not to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court but to instead remain part of it and instead push for reform to address their criticisms of the court.

One of the criticisms is that the leaders of powerful countries who were not signatories to the statute could not face sanction.

South Africa also last week withdrew its memorandum of intention of withdrawal to the United Nations, which a court ruled was done without the due process being followed. The parliamentary process would have corrected this.

Masutha's spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said the bill was withdrawn purely to comply with the court ruling. "It is purely in compliance with the court order," he said, adding that the bill would be reintroduced at a later stage and the parliamentary processes would unfold around these again.

"I don't want to commit to a timeframe," he said when asked when this bill would be reintroduced.

The ANC in its recent discussion documents on international relations, released ahead of its national policy conference in July, seemed to mellow its stance on the ICC.

Only two years ago the ANC, in similar documents ahead of its national general council, called the ICC "arrogant"

An ANC insider said this was because people were angry about demands that South Africa arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he attended the African Union summit in Johannesbug in 2015.

South Africa has argued that he had diplomatic exemption for attending a continental summit, but the ICC has asked Masutha to appear before it in April to explain this.

He said most of the ANC's members were not in favour of withdrawing from the ICC, as that would put South Africa in the same category as countries like Burundi and former Gambian president Yaya Jammeh.

South Africa was also at the forefront of a successful campaign at this year's AU summit in Addis Ababa for the continental summit to issue a call to African countries to withdraw from the ICC en masse. A number of countries, including Nigeria, had reservations about withdrawal.