Internationally respected lawyer and former Constitutional Court Judge Richard Goldstone has urged the South African government to fight for all nations to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), instead of abandoning it.
Some of the more powerful nations that have not ratified the Rome Statute include the US, Russia, China and India.
Goldstone told City Press that South Africa’s actions this week were a setback for respect for the rule of law in South Africa.
Goldstone worked as a prosecutor for the UN International Criminal Tribunal that looked into criminal matters regarding the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s.
He said that allowing Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to leave the country had been the first clear case in which the government had flouted an order of one of its courts.
“There can be no doubt that the provisions of the Genocide Convention and the Rome Statute (both now part of our own domestic law) took precedence in international and domestic law over the impunity of visiting heads of state, upon which the government now seeks to rely.”
Goldstone said it would be a seriously negative step for the country to withdraw its ratification of the Rome Statute.
Responding to criticism that the ICC was targeting African states, Goldstone said it had to be acknowledged that the eight cases before the ICC were all from Africa.
But he pointed out that, of the eight, four had been referred by the African governments concerned, two by the Security Council and only the remaining two had been brought before the ICC by its own prosecutor.
He said it was also true that some countries had been shielded from the ICC by powerful states.
These included war-torn Syria, which Russia had blocked from being investigated by the ICC.
He said it was also significant that the ICC’s prosecutor was currently investigating a number of non-African states, including some in Latin America and the Middle East.
Goldstone said that in deciding whether to pull out of the ICC, thought also needed to be given to the victims of mass murder or genocide.
“The case of al-Bashir’s Sudan is a case in point – more than 300 000 killed, tens of thousands of women raped and two and a half million people rendered homeless.
“Those crimes resulted in al-Bashir being sought for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.”