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Africa Versus the International Criminal Court

NEW YORK – On October 19, South African President Jacob Zuma’s government delivered documents to the United Nations (UN) signaling its intent to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Many ICC observers were taken by surprise.

A week earlier, Burundi charted a course to become the first member state to leave the ICC. The ICC had indicated that it would investigate, and possibly indict, government officials after Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza threw his country into turmoil by pursuing a third term, in violation of the constitution.

Many people have died in the unrest Nkurunziza caused, giving him and other officials an incentive to withdraw from the ICC. But no indictments are pending in South Africa, leading many people to wonder what precipitated the government’s decision.

Withdrawing from the ICC is no simple matter. Under the 2002 Rome Statute, which established the court, a country remains an ICC member for at least one year after it notifies the UN of its intent to withdraw. Moreover, that country is required to continue cooperating with the ICC on any proceedings that began prior to the effective withdrawal date.