UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday he hopes South Africa will reconsider its decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.
Ban said in a statement that he regretted the decision which followed a dispute over South Africa’s refusal to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and hand him over for trial at the ICC for war crimes.
Pretoria last week presented a formal letter to the United Nations announcing its decision to pull out of the Rome statute, the founding treaty of the ICC.
The withdrawal will take effect one year after the letter was received, making South Africa the first country to pull out from the court.
Ban “hopes South Africa will reconsider its decision before its withdrawal takes effect,” his spokesman said.
The UN recalled that South Africa was among the first signatories of the treaty and stressed that the ICC is “central to global efforts to end impunity and prevent conflict.”
Established in 2002, the ICC if often accused of bias against Africa and has struggled with a lack of cooperation, including from the United States which has signed the court’s treaty but never ratified it.
Ban said countries that have concerns about the functioning of the court should address them in the assembly of states that have signed the Rome statute.
UN officials meanwhile were working behind the scenes to try to persuade South Africa to reverse course and to prevent other countries from following suit.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric declined to give details, but said there were discussions “with some concerned member-states” and that “a letter withdrawing the withdrawal” would be sufficient to halt the pullout.
Earlier this month, Burundi said it would leave the ICC, while Namibia and Kenya have also raised the possibility.
The United Nations has yet to receive an official letter from Burundi notifying it of the withdrawal and a UN envoy was in Bujumbura for talks on Monday that were expected to touch on that decision.
Welcoming South Africa’s decision, Sudan last week urged other African member nations to follow suit.
“South Africa has made a profoundly negative decision for victims and the rule of law and it needs to reconsider, said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s international justice program.
“Other strong justice-supporting ICC states in Africa that helped create the court need to convey their views,” he told AFP.