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South Africa to withdraw from International Criminal Court

The country is the second, after Burundi made a similar announcement last week, to pull out of the court amid accusations it is biased against African nations.

By Stephen Feller
South Africa to withdraw from International Criminal Court
South Africa notified the United Nations it plans to withdraw from the International Criminal Court on Thursday, possibly as a result of its president, Jacob Zuma, pictured addressing the U.N. in 2013, visiting last week with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenyatta had been charged with war crimes by the court but the case fell apart due to a lack of evidence. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Less than a month after Burundi's parliament voted to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, South Africa on Thursday announced it's intent to become the second African country to pull out of the Rome Statute.

South Africa notified the United Nations of its intent to withdraw from the ICC, which is the formal beginning of the year-long process for withdrawing from the court.

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The notice was signed by Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa's minister of international relations, however several experts have questioned whether the country can pull out of the court under an executive decision or if its parliament is required to vote on such an action as well.

"The Republic of South Africa has found that it's obligations with respect to the peaceful resolution of conflicts at times are incompatible with the interpretation given by the International Criminal Court of obligations contained in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court," the letter says.

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Several media organizations reported they received copies of the document notifying the United Nations of the planned withdrawal, though neither South Africa or the United Nations has commented on the withdrawal yet.

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South Africa would be the second African nation to pull out of the permanent court, tasked with prosecuting genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, since Burundi's announcement it would withdraw on Oct. 13.

Last year, South Africa declined to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir while he was attending an African Union summit there. Al-Bashir is accused of genocide and war crimes in Darfur by the court, charges he denies he has committed.

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The African Union has previously told its members not to cooperate with the court because it holds an anti-Africa bias -- a campaign that apparently pushed South African officials to move toward withdrawal after President Jacob Zuma visited Kenya last week.

The Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, was previously accused by the court of committing crimes against humanity but the trial collapsed due to a lack of evidence against him.

At least one organization, Human Rights Watch, expressed concern at the movement of country's looking to leave the court and what it means for protecting human life in Africa.

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"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, Africa division senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. "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."

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