South Africa cabinet says to review its ICC membership

By Wendell Roelf
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir looks on ahead of the 25th African Union summit in Johannesburg June 14, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa's government will review its membership of the International Criminal Court over a dispute about Pretoria's failure to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, a cabinet minister said on Thursday.

The diplomatic row dates from June 15 when Bashir flew out of South Africa as world powers and activists urged the government to arrest him and has exposed a growing rift between Africa and developed nations over the role of the ICC.

The global court has issued a warrant for Bashir on charges of masterminding genocide in Sudan's Darfur region. But South Africa cited legal complexities and the need to balance its obligations to the African Union, among others, and let him go.

Bashir has denied the genocide charges.

"Cabinet decided that it will review South Africa's participation in the Rome Statutes of the International (Criminal) Court," Jeff Radebe, minister in the presidency, told reporters during a post-cabinet meeting briefing.

"Such a decision will only be taken when South Africa has exhausted all the remedies available to it," he said.

Radebe said South Africa, which will formally discuss its concerns with the ICC, would prepare a report citing specific articles of the statute that established the ICC.

One of them, Article 98 (2), places an obligation on the ICC to assist countries to execute warrants of arrest, Radebe said, noting that South Africa would propose amendments to clarify that obligation.

Any amendments to the statute must be discussed and agreed upon by member states, ICC spokesman for the court, Fadi El Abdallah, said.

Bashir, who was in South Africa for an AU summit, was allowed to go even though a Pretoria court had issued an order banning him from leaving until the end of a hearing on his case.

As the row simmers, top South African officials say the country should cut ties with the ICC over its alleged bias against Africa. All 36 people indicted by the ICC since 2005 have been African.

The ICC is "dangerous" and South Africa should withdraw from it, Gwede Mantashe, secretary general of the ruling African National Congress, said on Monday.

A South African judge asked prosecutors on Wednesday to consider charging government officials over the decision to allow Bashir to leave.

In an affidavit to the court on Thursday, a senior government official said Bashir's passport was not produced for processing at the military air base he flew from.

"The immigration officials on duty informed me that the passport of President Bashir was not part of the passports that were handed to immigration for processing of the persons that were on board the flight," Mkuseli Apleni said.

(Additional reporting by Peroshni Govender in Johannesburg and Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam; Editing by Louise Ireland)