South Africa’s North Gauteng High Court today ruled that the government’s attempt to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) was unconstitutional and invalid, as the government issued its withdrawal notice without consulting parliament. The court ordered President Jacob Zuma and the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs to revoke the notice of withdrawal.
It’s an important ruling for international justice both in South Africa and beyond.
The judgment will compel South African officials, as they move to comply with the court’s decision, to reflect and reconsider the withdrawal notice. Rather than leave the ICC – a court South Africa played a key role in creating – they should use this opportunity to reaffirm support for it. The ruling will be welcomed by many South Africans who opposed the government’s decision to abandon the ICC, which runs counter to the country’s human rights-oriented foreign policy agenda.
The ICC has the potential to deliver justice to victims of the world’s worst crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute. The ICC has its flaws, and its reach to more corners of the world should be expanded. Yet it remains the crucial global court of last resort and for many victims the only chance they have to see perpetrators held to account.
South Africa should follow the lead of Gambia, which recently cancelled its ICC withdrawal notice. Such a move would signal South Africa’s commitment to justice and the rights of victims. It would also restore respect for human rights and international justice to the center of its foreign policy practice.