ICC flip-flop isolates SA on all fronts

The different postures between the government and the ANC around the International Criminal Court (ICC) matter of whether to stay or quit the organisation have exposed policy weaknesses in the organisation, the country’s diplomats suggest.    

The diplomats are concerned that the country’s sovereignty is being compromised by international considerations that should not matter, hence the government’s fear and
pussyfooting about a backlash on matters that should be the least of their worries.

The ANC’s national executive committee had overwhelmingly supported the country’s exit from the ICC. “But why should we care about what the US thinks when they themselves are not signatories to the ICC’s Rome Statute?” asked a frustrated foreign-based diplomat.

The diplomat added that SA’s vacillating stance was not helpful, but in the end risked isolation both on the US and the Brics fronts.

The ANC’s threats to dump the ICC due to pressure to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin during the upcoming Brics summit made international headlines at a time when Ramaphosa had a delegation on the ground in Washington to persuade the US against expelling SA from Agoa over its stance on the Russia/Ukraine conflict.

 US trade with South Africa totalled $21-billion in 2021 – a factor that may have contributed to persuading South Africa to remain in the ICC. Agoa provides preferential access to the US market for SA’s agricultural and manufactured products.

A Presidency insider said after ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula dropped the bombshell on the party’s position on ICC on Tuesday, Ramaphosa should have been briefed by his spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, before echoing  Mbalula.

“But when you go back to the original NEC statement, the issue is summarised differently, and it is Mbalula who actually spoke off the cuff about SA leaving the ICC.”

The person said Ramaphosa should have rightfully been worried “with the US Congress showing some signs of hostility towards SA”.

Later on Tuesday, both the ANC and the Presidency issued a correction that leaving the ICC would be a last resort.

Another Asia-based diplomat said the renewed talk of SA’s ICC membership had rattled some of the world’s superpowers like Germany and France, and it was expected that SA’s consulates in those countries would have a lot of damage control to do in the coming days. “Our colleagues are deeply worried that we are going to be isolated in these parts of the world if we withdraw,” said the person.

At least three ANC NEC members said the majority in the party’s highest decision-making body between national conferences had favoured the withdrawal from the ICC “because it is an instrument weaponised by the West to punish different countries and yet they themselves are the worst abusers of human rights throughout the world”.

“There was a view that we must withdraw. And obviously if you withdraw it takes a lot of time. It might take a year to take the motion through parliament and all that. People said that in the context where it is not possible to withdraw immediately, you must look at the option of an exemption,” said the insider.

On March 17, the ICC issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest over alleged unlawful transfers of Ukrainian children.

Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa are scheduled to meet in Durban in August to discuss economic growth and international cooperation.

On Wednesday, the Cabinet appointed Deputy President Paul Mashatile to lead an inter-ministerial committee to consider “various options on the matter”. The Cabinet said it reaffirmed South Africa’s participation in the ICC, and “confirms that we remain a signatory to the Rome Statute”.

Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said the US was not a signatory to the Rome Statute, and therefore did not recognise ICC arrest warrants for their soldiers who have violated human rights in other countries. Similarly, the Russian Federation is also not a signatory to the ICC.

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