The ANC has decided to call for South Africa to suspend its membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) until concerns about the institution’s perceived bias and unfairness are addressed.
The ANC took a resolution at a special national executive committee meeting in Pretoria on Friday evening after what insiders say was a “heated and emotional” discussion.
National executive committee (NEC) sources told City Press South Africa would not completely withdraw from the ICC but was “walking away for the time being” until concerns had been sorted out.
The party will communicate its decision to government to implement it, but this will be a mere formality, as key players such as President Jacob Zuma, his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, and International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane are all NEC members. Cabinet will then make the formal decision.
But in its post-NEC statement yesterday, the ANC stopped short of announcing the suspension, instead calling on government “to work together with the rest of the continent to protect the ICC from undue influence and restore its credibility within the continent”.
An ANC leader said this was because the party did not publicly want to be seen to be dictating to government on day-to-day decisions.
Although the matter was not officially up for discussion at the meeting – which was dealing with preparations for a tripartite alliance summit where the crisis in labour federation Cosatu would be dealt with – the near arrest of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir during the African Union (AU) summit in Johannesburg pushed the ICC matter on to the agenda.
An ANC leader said President Zuma touched on the al-Bashir issue when he made his opening input.
“He spoke about al-Bashir and the AU matter because it is a recent issue and people are really emotional about it. It was a heated debate, with the majority view being that South Africa should withdraw [from the ICC],” said the leader.
But in the end, it was decided not to “fully withdraw” but to “take all these issues that the ANC has raised and go there to negotiate”.
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre applied to the North Gauteng High Court last Sunday that South Africa arrest al-Bashir for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.
On Monday, a full Bench headed by Judge President Dunstan Mlambo ordered al-Bashir’s arrest. But by the time the court made the ruling, government had already sneaked him out of the country. This was despite an earlier court order that he not be allowed to leave the country pending deliberations on whether South Africa was obliged – as an ICC member state – to arrest him and hand him over for trial.
The ANC yesterday reiterated its stance that the ICC’s work was being “influenced” by Western powers, who themselves were not part of the court system.
“We perceive it as tending to act as a proxy instrument for these states, who see no need to subject themselves to its discipline, to persecute African leaders and effect regime change on the continent. It is being used as a court against Africa,” the ANC said.
It also called on the African Union to strengthen institutions such as the African Court on Human and People’s Rights so as to “protect the people of Africa against crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression”.
It is understood the ANC will now also coordinate ICC lobbying with other former liberation movements on the continent.
A total withdrawal from the ICC would be a cumbersome process involving Parliament and a motivation to the UN secretary-general.
This week, the chairperson of the ANC’s subcommittee on international relations, Obed Bapela, told City Press government was taken by surprise by the al-Bashir court challenge.
He said government had expected those who objected to al-Bashir’s presence in South Africa to lodge their objection after full diplomatic immunity for all AU delegates was gazetted.
“We didn’t anticipate a problem in South Africa because publishing it [the gazette] was to say to the society: be aware that this gathering is going to be protected by this immunity. Even if you are having an objection, say so; say you object to certain people being invited or you could even demand [to know] who have we invited; we would have given that information and then you could have objected to certain individuals,” he said.
He said government would have disagreed with those who objected, and then they would have taken the matter to court.
If government had lost the court case, it would have then been in a position to advise the affected individuals about the risks of coming.
“But no one objected; it went quietly. No objection, therefore all systems went,” he said.
Bapela said that by not arresting al-Bashir the government chose Africa over the ICC.
“Our reputation in Africa is restored; our dignity in the continent is restored; our being part of the continent is affirmed.”
Bapela said the ANC and South Africa were not promoting impunity and were not saying that al–Bashir did not kill people and they in fact would still want to see investigations into his suspected role in mass crimes going ahead.