South Africa's ruling party announced plans to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC), a deputy minister said. The ANC called on the government to reconsider its membership, following several disputes with the ICC.
Obed Bapela, deputy minister in the Presidency, told reporters that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) wanted to withdraw South Africa from the ICC, saying that it had "lost its direction." The announcement came after a National General Council meeting in Midrand over the weekend.
"There are powerful nations who are also refusing to be part of the ICC... they've got these unfettered powers to then refer matters to the ICC. We want the ICC to be reconstructed and restructured in such a way that it can be a global court that is fair for everybody," said Bapela, who also chairs the party's international relations subcommittee.
ANC sure of South Africa's own human rights record
Earlier this year, South Africa Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe had already alluded to an exit from the ICC, while qualifying at the time that it would only be a last resort.
The decision to leave the ICC could carry far-reaching legal consequences and involve drawn-out procedures, but the ruling party appeared confident in its own justice system, saying that the country held "the flag of human rights."
Disagreement over Sudan
Trouble has been brewing between the ICC and the South African government, which has been run by the erstwhile-banned ANC for over two decades, after it faced severe criticism for ignoring a court order to arrest Sudan's president earlier this year. In June, the government allowed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to leave the country after a meeting of African Union leaders in Johannesburg. Al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes.
The ICC, based in The Hague, has issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir over alleged war crimes in Darfur, where the government has been fighting rebels since 2003. The court has asked South Africa to explain why it did not arrest al-Bashir.
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) had issued a statement condemning al-Bashir's departure from South Africa, saying that the ANC government could "no longer hide behind flimsy excuses."
"These excuses include that al-Bashir was protected by immunity granted to him by the African Union. This excuse holds no water as the United Nations implicitly revoked al-Bashir’s immunity as an acting head of atate in 2005 under UN Security Council Resolution 1593 due to the seriousness of the charges against him and the need for justice to be served for the people of Sudan," the DA statement read.
"It is high time that it accounts for the decision to allow al-Bashir to leave South Africa without being arrested."
'Kill the Boer' controversy
The ANC has also face previous problems with the ICC. In 2010, a white farmer filed a complaint with the court after high-ranking party members in the ANC youth league sang a traditional liberation song that some consider an incitement to hatred for its "Kill the Boer" lyrics, referring to South African farmers of Dutch-settler origin.
Omar al-Bashir's trip to South Africa attracted both international and domestic condemnation, including from Democratic Alliance (DA), the main opposition party
"The African National Congress Youth League is disgusted by the attention-seeking sentiments and insanity of some Afrikaner farmer from Rustenburg who has reportedly lodged a complaint with the International Criminals Court (ICC) about the singing of liberation songs in South Africa's ANC-led liberation movement," the ANC said at the time.
"If there are people who committed genocide against our people, it is the Afrikaners who slaughtered many freedom fighters and innocent South Africans to protect the racist apartheid regime."
South African president Jacob Zuma has also since been seen singing the song at party rallies.
Changing perceptions of the ANC
With municipal elections scheduled for 2016, Zuma has been fighting an uphill battle against losing members as well as votes, saying that the ANC had to "reverse the public perception that (the ANC) is soft on corruption and that it is a corrupt organization."
Opponents, however, say that Zuma himself was to blame for at least some of the party's dwindling support, amid a scandal over the spending of $23 million dollars of taxpayers' money on upgrades to his private rural residence and staggering crime rates across the country.
ss/rc (Reuters, dpa)