South Africa Withdraws From International Court; Others Follow For years, African leaders have criticized the International Criminal Court in The Hague — arguing that it targets only Africans, while failing to go after other alleged global wrongdoers.

South Africa Withdraws From International Court; Others Follow

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The world has only one court for prosecuting war crimes, and within the last week, three African nations have pulled out of it. Gambia declared the International Criminal Court is really the international Caucasian court. Gambia claims the court persecutes and humiliates people of color while ignoring crimes by Western nations. Burundi is also planning to withdraw, as is South Africa, where we find NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wants South Africa to think again about pulling out of the International Criminal Court. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric.


STEPHANE DUJARRIC: The secretary-general does regret the decision by the government of South Africa. Over the last two decades, the world has made enormous strides towards the development of a global system of international criminal justice with the ICC at its core.

QUIST-ARCTON: Not everyone agrees. South Africa's justice minister, Michael Masutha delivered the news Friday that his country was preparing to abandon the court.


MICHAEL MASUTHA: Written notice to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has been submitted to the secretary-general of the United Nations in order to ensure South Africa's continued ability to conduct active diplomatic relations.

QUIST-ARCTON: Including diplomatic ties with Sudan, whose leader, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been indicted by the ICC for alleged crimes against humanity in Darfur. Bashir attended an African Union Summit in Johannesburg last year, and South Africa defiantly refused to arrest him. A growing number of African leaders and citizens say the International Criminal Court is flawed and selective, targeting and prosecuting only Africans and pandering to the West. Its record in 14 years - nine investigations in eight African countries and a couple of high-profile convictions.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: That chamber found, beyond reasonable doubt, that Mr. Bemba is criminally responsible.

QUIST-ARCTON: To date, only Africans, including former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba in March have been convicted.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: For the crimes against humanity of murder and rape.

THULI MADONSELA: Unfairly, the ICC has lost credibility, not just among political leaders. If you listen to young people in Africa, you get the same views.

QUIST-ARCTON: South Africa's outgoing anti-corruption chief, attorney Thuli Madonsela, supports the principle of the International Criminal Court, but acknowledges that many Africans do not. They argue the U.S., for instance, has not signed up to the ICC.

MADONSELA: It's like me saying, I'll be the judge, but me and my children will not be bound by these laws, and we will not be charged. It creates a very unhealthy dynamic. In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby says South Africa signaling its impending withdrawal is firmly on their radar.


JOHN KIRBY: And we're concerned about this decision.

QUIST-ARCTON: Burundi, too, whose president is being investigated by the ICC, announced last week it's leaving the court. But Kirby said news by these two African countries do not necessarily herald a mass African exodus from the war crimes court.


KIRBY: I don't want to get ahead of events, and I don't think we're at a point now where we can call it a trend. We do think that the ICC has made valuable contributions in the service of accountability in a number of situations. And we hope that other governments would share that analysis.

QUIST-ARCTON: Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, says institutions remain weak on the continent. He adds that until Africa strengthens its own regional court, a reformed ICC remains a credible option to ensure justice for victims and survivors.

DEWA MAVHINGA: They may be valid criticisms of the International Criminal Court, but that is in no way justification of doing away with this court of last resort. What is important is to ensure that there are reforms without throwing away global justice.

QUIST-ARCTON: Mavhinga says South Africa and others must not send the mistaken message they embrace impunity for war crimes. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Johannesburg.

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