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SALC letter to South African government- supporting the fight against impunity and encouraging international accountability

By 4 October 2013July 28th, 2023International Justice, International Justice Resources4 min read

The extraordinary African Union (AU) summit that has been called to discuss the International Criminal Court (ICC) and possible withdrawal from the Rome Statute is around the corner. While it is unlikely that there will be consensus, the loss of even a few nations will be a pity for international justice. In the interests of accountability and justice, SALC has written a letter to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to encourage the South African government to support the ICC at the upcoming AU summit.

Relations between the ICC and some African governments have deteriorated. The issue at hand is still the claim that the ICC is targeting Africans. Although there is no novelty in this argument, it has been intensified by the commencement of trials against President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, who are the first sitting heads of state to stand trial.

Some African governments have shown support for the ICC at the recent United Nations General Assembly meeting, for example the President of Botswana pledged support for the ICC and described it as a necessary part of the international justice framework. However, concerns remain that those who hold similar supportive sentiments are in the minority. The negativity surrounding current ICC proceedings gives credence to the need for civil society and other African governments to stand up and support the ICC.

In the letter SALC notes that South Africa has led by example as an active participant in the quest for justice. South Africa’s move to domesticate the Rome Statute and the Geneva Conventions is exemplary as is the fact that suspected war criminals and fugitives of justice have been prohibited from setting foot on South African soil. This international criminal justice stance is what should be encouraged and supported, not summits and meetings that detract from international accountability.

SALC also emphasised that the ICC has faced challenges from its inception but that Africans have been instrumental in the development of the court. Africa remains the largest regional bloc of state parties to the Rome Statute, and it has many of its people working at the highest levels of the ICC.

The letter goes on to acknowledge that all the cases currently before the Court are African cases however, the reasons for this are simple. Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali all requested the Courts intervention. The situations in Libya and Darfur were referred by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), with the support of African members. Kenya is the only situation where the Office of the Prosecutor has acted on its own initiative after obtaining authorisation from the Pre-trial Chamber.

Admittedly there are flaws in the current international criminal justice framework which result in some countries being out of the courts reach. This is exacerbated by the current system used in UNSC as it leaves international justice at the mercy of nuanced self -interest and politics, Syria being one of many unfortunate examples.

However, just because we cannot secure accountability everywhere does not mean we must recklessly abandon one of the largest and most ambitious international accountability mechanisms. Instead efforts should be directed to the expansion of the court’s jurisdiction and critical, yet constructive engagement.

Merely abandoning the court will not affect any of the on-going trials and will create a vacuum that will encourage the perpetration of odious crimes. This must be prevented.


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Saidat Nakitto says: 
17 NOVEMBER, 2013 AT 8:24 AM 
Agreeably, the International Criminal Court should be supported rather than discredited especially in Africa where impunity has become the norm. The impasse between African Union and ICC should not divert our attention to from atrocities committed in Africa against innocent civilians to advance political interests of a few political elites.

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