South Africa, the ICC, and theUN Human Rights Council

South Africa, the ICC, and theUN Human Rights Council

The Centre for Confl ict Resolution (CCR), Cape Town, South Africa, and the Johannesburg-based Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) hosted two public dialogues in Cape Town on 24 February 2016 on €œSouth Africa and the International Criminal Court (ICC)€, and on 31 March 2016 on €œSouth Africa and the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council€.

In 1993, less than a year before the end of apartheid, Nelson Mandela -€“ South Africa'€™s first democratically elected president -€“ identified the protection and promotion of human rights and democracy as core principles to guide the country's foreign policy. However, two decades on, South Africa’s efforts to forge a human rights-based foreign policy have been confronted by the realities of regional and global politics, with critics decrying the perceived forfeiture of its role as a 'human rights entrepreneur'.  Tshwane (Pretoria) has, however, emphasised the need for a balance between normative ideals and pragmatic concerns, pointing to the decisive influence that national interests play in international politics and arguing that South Africa should not be judged by a higher standard than other countries.

The following seven key policy recommendations emerged from the two public dialogues:

  • civil society must maintain sustained pressure on South Africa not to withdraw from the ICC
  • African states should use their majority at the ICC constructively to place their concerns before the Assembly of Parties, and propose amendments to the 1998 Rome Statute
  • South Africa and other African governments must continue pushing for the reform of the UN Security Council, particularly as it relates to referrals to the ICC
  • all African countries should cede jurisdiction on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide to the African Court of Justice and Human Rights in order to establish a viable regional court as an alternative to the ICC, which should be a court of last resort
  • the granting of immunity to sitting African heads of state must be carefully weighed against a fair justice system that holds leaders to account and avoids impunity
  • the South African government should not place its political and economic interests on the continent ahead of the rights of victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Justice for victims must remain the priority
  • South African government departments responsible for the implementation of the provisions of international human rights law instruments - including the departments of justice and constitutional development, social development, home affairs, and health - must be fully capacitated, both in terms of budget and human resources, to submit reports to the UN Human Rights Council timeously, and to implement the programmes emanating from this domestication
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