Carroll Bogert, Deputy Executive Director, External Relations

Supporters of human rights around the world watched in joy 14 years ago as apartheid ended and a new era of democratic governance began in South Africa. But many of us are now watching in dismay as the country's foreign policy often aligns with global enemies of human rights.

The South African government's unwillingness to confront President Robert Mugabe on his extremely abusive governance of Zimbabwe is well known to South Africans, and justly controversial.

Less well known are the many other important international issues on which the South African government has sided with reactionary rather than progressive forces.

As a member of the United Nations security council for two years, South Africa has had many opportunities to speak out forcefully for human rights - or to join those speaking out against them. Again and again, it has chosen the latter course.

The South African government's unwillingness to confront President Robert Mugabe on his extremely abusive governance of Zimbabwe is well known to South Africans, and justly controversial.

Less well known are the many other important international issues on which the South African government has sided with reactionary rather than progressive forces.

Burma is the best-known case. With Russia and China, South Africa has blocked efforts to condemn the military government's lethal crackdown on peaceful protesters last year.

Perhaps the department of foreign affairs has forgotten that, when Burma was still democratic, it demanded that the evils of apartheid, including the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, should be brought before the security council.

The international solidarity movement against apartheid constantly confronted the argument that what happened inside a country's borders was none of the rest of the world's business. That is precisely the argument that the South African government now makes frequently at the security council. It narrowly defines what constitutes a "threat to international peace and security", and insists that all other matters be taken up at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, outside the limelight, South Africa has demonstrated a similar pattern - failing to support key resolutions condemning human rights abuses in countries from Iran to Uzbekistan, and aligning itself with countries whose human rights records are, by anyone's standard, abysmal.

At the UN this month, a diplomatic struggle is shaping up to be South Africa's lowest moment yet. The issue is Darfur, and more specifically the request by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president. The accusation: genocide and crimes against humanity, the world's most serious crimes.

News of the warrant request was greeted with joy among the millions of Darfuris who have been driven from their homes by government forces acting in concert with janjaweed militias. Tens of thousands of Africans have died in this civil war, most of them civilians, and most of them as a result of Sudanese government actions.

The Sudanese government has begun a concerted campaign to evade justice for these crimes and the South African government has become its accomplice. Together with Libya, also on the security council, South Africa has been leading an effort to suspend the International Criminal Court's request for the next 12 months.

Suspending the request for an arrest warrant would send a clear signal, not only to the Sudanese government, but also to tyrants everywhere that they can continue to cheat justice through international political machination.

I was present at the negotiations on the treaty for the International Criminal Court 10 years ago in Rome, and listened with admiration to the speech of Dullah Omar, the South African justice minister, in ringing support of this important new human rights institution. Achieving a strong treaty at those talks was an uphill battle, but we won. Only the steadfast leadership of South Africa, along with a handful of others, overcame the opposition of major powers such as the United States, China and Israel.

The International Criminal Court is not an anti-African institution, as some have alleged. It is a pro-African institution: pro-civilians in Darfur whose villages have been burned to the ground, pro-women in the Democratic Republic of Congo who have been raped in wartime, pro-children in northern Uganda who have been abducted as child soldiers. It is opposed to government and rebel leaders responsible for such crimes, no matter where they live.

The prosecutor has also been looking into situations in Colombia and Afghanistan, as well as crimes committed in the Russian-Georgian armed conflict.

It is truly heartbreaking to see South Africa preparing to abandon the court at a critical juncture in its history. Sadly, it appears to be part of a trend that is putting Pretoria's foreign policy on the wrong side of history.

Perhaps only a fervent and sustained outcry from South African society can restore the country to its rightful path and begin to repair the damage that has already been done to its reputation.

Carroll Bogert is Associate Director of Human Rights Watch