South Africa on Friday announced that it has decided to withdraw from the International Criminal Court – dealing a major blow to a troubled institution set up to try the world’s worst crimes.
Reuters and The Associated Press both say they have seen a document, signed by South Africa’s foreign minister, declaring the country’s intent to withdraw.
The AP reports that legislation to finalize the move has to pass South Africa’s parliament, but notes that passage of such a bill is likely.
The decision followed a dispute last year when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited the country for an African Union summit despite facing an ICC arrest warrant over alleged war crimes.
South Africa refused to arrest him, saying he had immunity as a head of state.
Justice Minister Michael Masutha told reporters in Pretoria that the court was “inhibiting South Africa’s ability to honour its obligations relating to the granting of diplomatic immunity”.
“There is a view in Africa that the ICC in choosing who to prosecute has seemingly preferred to target leaders in Africa,” Masutha added to AFP.
The ICC, set up in 2002, is often accused of bias against Africa and has also struggled with a lack of cooperation, including from the United States which has signed the court’s treaty but never ratified it.
“South Africa was an early supporter and advocate of the court and its withdrawal announcement marks probably the biggest setback yet for the ICC,” NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports. “Predictions say Kenya will likely be next.”
Earlier on Friday, the public broadcaster SABC published a document outlining the withdrawal plan.
The document was signed by South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, and dated 19 October.
“The Republic of South Africa has found that its obligations with respect to the peaceful resolution of conflicts at times are incompatible with the interpretation given by the international criminal court,” the document states.