A South African court has blocked the government’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), ruling that the move is “unconstitutional and invalid.” “The cabinet decision to deliver the notice of withdrawal… without prior parliamentary approval is unconstitutional and invalid,” said Judge Phineas Mojapelo in a ruling issued in the North Gauteng High Court on Wednesday.
The judge further declared that the president and ministers “are ordered forthwith to revoke the notice of withdrawal,” delivering a major setback for President Jacob Zuma’s administration. The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) Party, which was one of the groups that had filed the court case, welcomed the judgment.
“The withdrawal by the South African government from the ICC was irrational and unconstitutional,” said DA legislator James Selfie. “We would like South Africa to stay in the ICC because we believe that it is consistent with our constitution and with the legacy of Nelson Mandela.”
The ICC, which was launched in July 2002 and has 124 member states, is the first UN-affiliated legal body with permanent international jurisdiction to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The Hague-based institution has in recent months faced threats of abandonment by numerous African countries, with objections focusing on its apparent bias against Africa.
South Africa had formally notified the United Nations late last year of its plan to withdraw from the Rome Statute — the 1998 treaty establishing the ICC — following a dispute over Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s visit to the country in 2015. Authorities in Johannesburg at the time refused to detain Bashir despite an ICC arrest warrant issued against him over alleged war crimes, arguing that he had immunity as a head of state.