South Africa's Withdrawal Would Send Signal that Impunity is Valued Over Justice

(Amsterdam, NL) Upon adoption of the Rome Statute, African civil society, including Congolese human rights organizations, played an important role to support initiatives promoting international criminal responsibility, providing a great contribution to efforts designed to create an environment conducive to fighting impunity for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.

The 1998 Rome Statue needed the ratification of 60 State Parties before entering into force on July, 1st 2002. Thirty-four African states are party to the Rome Statute.

The establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is, and will remain, one of the most necessary and important institutions established in the 21st Century. The mission, and message, is clear: impunity for mass crimes cannot and will not be tolerated. No one is above the law, including heads of state or others seeking immunity. Militia leaders are on notice that the most serious crimes will not go unpunished.

The jurisdiction of the ICC is limited to situations when a State party is not willing or is unable to prosecute genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity, and when the United Nations Security Council refers a case to the Court.

African citizens are eager to live in peace, to see their basic rights respected, to see those responsible for the most heinous crimes held accountable. Without respect for human rights and international criminal justice, there will be no lasting peace neither sustainable development in Africa.

The recent announcement that South Africa’s African National Congress party wishes to lead South Africa out of the ICC – while also encouraging other nations to follow suit – sends a signal that impunity is to be valued more than justice. Nelson Mandela led South Africa out of Apartheid and towards justice for all South Africans, but he also stood as an example to all Africans and marginalized peoples that justice and accountability, that character of the individual and of our nations, matter.

It is my hope that South Africa’s leaders will respect and embrace Madiba’s legacy. The voiceless and the vulnerable, in Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan and Burma, across the continent of Africa, and around the world, must know that the world is committed to justice. To weaken the ICC is to vote in favor of impunity and violence.

Therefore, we must renew our support, and reinvest in our commitment to strengthen the rule of law, at domestic, regional and global level. We are urging African leaders to reiterate their support to the principles and obligations enshrined in the Rome Statute.

Instead of attempting to undermine the historic progress made by international criminal law for the last two decades, we are calling on African state parties to engage their diplomatic leverage to push for the adoption of a Code of Conduct regarding Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and to advance the restraint on the use of veto by the Permanent Members of the Security Council in situations of mass atrocity. Instead of jeopardizing the legacy of Madiba, this would reinforce it.

We must promote accountability, coherence and transparency. Seek redress and reparation for victims of the most serious crimes. Envisage a world free of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. We must seek justice and redouble our efforts to deter and prevent mass atrocities.

*Dr. Denis Mukwege, PhD Founder and Medical Director, Panzi Hospital and Foundations *

This statement is available in French.