South Africa has formally begun the process of withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing it of bias against Africans.
It has sent an “Instrument of Withdrawal” document to the UN, coming as Burundi adopted a law to withdraw.
Last year, South Africa refused to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide and war crimes.
He was attending an African Union summit in Johannesburg.
Mr Bashir denies allegations he committed atrocities in Sudan’s troubled western Darfur region.
Several media outlets say they have obtained a copy of the “Instrument of Withdrawal”, signed by South Africa’s foreign minister.
“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 says.
Neither South Africa nor the UN have officially confirmed the media reports. There are also conflicting legal opinions as to whether South Africa can leave the ICC without parliamentary approval.
Human Rights Watch has criticised the reported move.
“South Africa’s proposed withdrawal from the International Criminal Court shows startling disregard for justice from a country long seen as a global leader on accountability for victims of the gravest crimes,” said Dewa Mavhinga, the NGO’s Africa division senior researcher.
“It’s important both for South Africa and the region that this runaway train be slowed down and South Africa’s hard-won legacy of standing with victims of mass atrocities be restored,” Mr Mavhinga said.
Last year, South Africa warned it might leave the ICC after its courts ruled that the government had violated its international obligations by failing to arrest Mr Bashir.
The reported move to leave comes a week after the South African President Jacob Zuma visited Kenya, a country that has been highly critical of the ICC ever since the prosecutor charged its President Uhuru Kenyatta with crimes against humanity.
He denied the charges, and the trial later collapsed due to lack of evidence.
The ICC and global justice:
- Came into force in 2002
- The Rome Statute that set it up has been ratified by 123 countries, but the US is a notable absence
- It aims to prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for the worst crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes
- In the court’s 14-year history it has only brought charges against Africans.
Two weeks ago Burundi said it would pull out of the ICC – a decision described by the court as “a setback in the fight against impunity”. MPs backed the decision and its president signed the measure into law on Tuesday.
Last year, Namibia also said it planned to withdraw from the ICC, describing the court as an an “abomination” which wanted to “dictate” to Africans on how they should be governed.
Previously, the African Union has urged member states not to co-operate with the ICC, accusing it of being racially biased against Africa by failing to prosecute suspected war criminals from other parts of the world.
The ICC denies the allegation, saying it pursues justice on behalf of Africans who are victims of atrocities.
The 124-member ICC opened in 2002. It is the first legal body with permanent international jurisdiction to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.