June 20, 2024

South Africa Backtracks, now blames ‘communication error’ after President Ramaphosa’s remarks on quitting ICC over Putin warrant

In a sudden reversal of course, South Africa announced Tuesday that it will not be withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC), as earlier announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa. The President’s office cited a “communication error” from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.

Earlier on Tuesday, President Ramaphosa had said that the ANC had decided to withdraw South Africa from the ICC, citing concerns over the court’s alleged bias against African countries. The move came after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin last month, which would have required South Africa to detain Putin during the upcoming BRICS meetings in the country.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 22, 2022: Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives comments to the media after a ceremony to sign a declaration on allied cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan at Moscow's Kremlin. Sergei Guneyev/POOL/TASS (Photo by Sergei Guneyev\TASS via Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – FEBRUARY 22, 2022: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin gives comments to the media after a ceremony to sign a declaration on allied cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan at Moscow’s Kremlin. Sergei Guneyev/POOL/TASS (Photo by Sergei Guneyev\TASS via Getty Images)

However, in a late-night statement, the President’s office clarified that “South Africa remains a signatory (to the ICC).” The statement added that “the clarification follows an error in a comment made during a media briefing held by the governing African National Congress.” The ANC also issued a statement blaming a communication error.

The ANC had earlier told journalists that the issue of South Africa withdrawing from the ICC had been raised at a weekend meeting of its national executive council. Then, when questioned by a journalist during a joint media conference with the visiting President Sauli Niinisto of Finland, Ramaphosa said the ANC “has taken that decision that it is prudent that South Africa should pull out of the ICC.”

The decision to withdraw from the ICC had sparked a debate on the role of the ICC in promoting justice and holding individuals accountable for war crimes and other atrocities. It remains to be seen how the ICC will respond to South Africa’s withdrawal and the growing criticism from African leaders.

The ICC has indicted 54 individuals, almost exclusively African, leading many African leaders to accuse the court of bias against the continent. The ANC’s withdrawal from the ICC is a reflection of the growing sentiment in many African countries, which view the court as a tool of Western countries to target and control African leaders. Other African states have also refused to cooperate with the court and are considering abandoning it altogether.

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