Ramaphosa’s office, ANC make U-turn on ICC withdrawal

In an overnight turn of events, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office has made a U-turn on his statement that the ANC had taken a decision for South Africa to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying he had erred. This came after Ramaphosa reiterated the ANC’s statement that it had decided to pull out of the ICC over its double standards and unfair treatment of certain countries and individuals, especially African leaders. 

This statement followed the ICC’s international warrant of arrest issued against Russian President Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, a move largely rejected and viewed by the global south as a sign that the body was impartial, played geopolitics and did the West’s bidding in its fight against Russia.  Political parties such as the EFF, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the African Radical Economic Transformation Alliance (ARETA) have already dismissed the ICC warrant against Putin. They also called on the South African government to ignore it.

Ramaphosa was replying to questions from the media about the ICC at the Union Buildings yesterday following a bilateral meeting between himself and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, adding that a separate Amnesty International report had also raised questions about the court’s double standards.  

“The governing party, the African National Congress, has taken that decision that it is prudent that South Africa should pull out of the ICC, largely because of the manner in which the ICC has been seen to be dealing with these types of problems. 

“There’s also been commentary, I believe, from Amnesty International, where there has been a reflection on what many people believe is an unfair treatment. Our view is that we would like this matter of unfair treatment to be properly discussed. In the meantime, the governing party has decided once again that there should be a pull out. That will be a matter that will be taken forward,” Ramaphosa said. 

Earlier yesterday, ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula had proudly told the media that the ANC national executive committee (NEC) felt they should give fresh impetus to the resolution of the party’s 55th national conference for South Africa to leave the ICC due to its double standards.  

“The NEC reiterated its concern that unilateralism is a growing problem with the West threatening to violate international law and sidestepping international consensus in order to impose its will. In this context, seeing itself as an enlightened civilisation it arrogated to itself the right to impose its will on others in the name of human rights and democracy. “On the International Criminal Court, the NEC noted its 55th National Conference Resolution that ‘the ANC and the South African government must rescind the withdrawal from the ICC Court and intensify its lobby for the ratification of the Malabo Protocol,” Mbalula said. 

“The NEC aligns itself with a report of Amnesty International’s Annual Report of 2022 which exposes double standards throughout the world on human rights and the failure of the international community to unite around consistently applied human rights and universal values. The ANC reiterates its call for UN’s key decision-making body, the Security Council, to be reformed,” he added.  

However, both the Presidency and the ANC have now released statements which appear to be an attempt to water down or correct Ramaphosa and Mbalula’s statements. In a statement released shortly after midnight, Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said Ramaphosa erred.

“Based on public discussion and pronouncements on South Africa’s participation in the International Criminal Court, the Presidency wishes to clarify that South Africa remains a signatory to the Rome Statute and will continue to campaign for equal and consistent application of international law.

“This clarification follows an error in a comment made during a media briefing held by the governing African National Congress on South Africa’s status with regard to the ICC. Regrettably, the President erroneously affirmed a similar position during a media session today. South Africa remains a signatory to the ICC in line with a resolution of the 55th National Conference of the ANC – held in December 2022 – to rescind an earlier decision to withdraw from the ICC,” Magwenya said.

Magwenya said the recent ANC NEC meeting affirmed the same position taken in December last year, for South Africa to stay put.

“The NEC had also reflected on the potential withdrawal from the ICC as an option that would arise as a measure of last resort in the absence of legal options that would result in fairness and consistency in the administration of international law. In remaining a signatory to the Rome Statute, South Africa is guided by the importance of strengthening institutions of global governance. Accordingly, South Africa will work to invigorate the Malabo protocol that would establish a continental criminal court that would complement the ICC as a court of last resort,” he added.

ANC communication head, Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri, also issued a similarly worded statement, correcting “an impression” Mbalula might have created that the governing party had taken a “categorical” decision for the country to immediately withdraw from the ICC. 

“At the press conference, the secretary-general provided a reflection on the NEC discussion to the extent that a withdrawal from the ICC was also raised. Importantly, it was raised as a measure of last resort that would arise if – and only if – the other options do not yield the desired results of fairness and consistency in the administration of international law. In outlining the broad context of discussion, an unintended impression may have been created that a categorical decision for an immediate withdrawal had been taken. This is not so,” said Bhengu-Motsiri. 

The ICC and its role in serving international justice have come under scrutiny in recent years. Some countries, especially from the global south, have accused the Hague-based body of targeting leaders of the developing nations while allowing Western powers to violate international law and human rights with impunity. 

They cited America’s wars in the Middle East over the past 20 years, which destabilised countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan in the name of fighting the “war on terror”. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, millions displaced and infrastructure destroyed since 2001 in the wars started by the West. Other wars supported by the West included the Israeli Occupation of Palestine, which has seen thousands of Palestinians killed and the country’s infrastructure destroyed over the past four decades. 

Western leaders responsible for such wars – such as former US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair – have not been charged or prosecuted by the ICC. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors have also been left untouched by the court. 



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