South Africa has announced its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court. dealing a major blow to the troubled institution.

This decision followed a dispute over the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during an African Union summit in the country last year

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Justice Minister Michael Masutha said ICC is “inhibiting the county’s ability to honour its obligations relating to the granting of diplomatic immunity”.

“South Africa remains committed to the fight against impunity and to hold those who have committed crimes against humanity and other serious crimes accountable.”

The ICC was set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes. It has often been accused of targeting African leaders and has also struggled with a lack of cooperation from member countries.

South Africa Opposition Rejects Withdrawal

The country’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance has immediately launched a legal appeal. It describes the withdrawal as “unconstitutional, irrational and procedurally flawed”.

“The decision… shows the depth of impunity and disregard for the rule of law within the ANC (ruling party)”

“Clearly (Foreign Minister Maite) Nkoana-Mashabane has taken her lead from President Jacob Zuma.”

South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal, in March, accused Zuma’s government of disgraceful conduct over Bashir’s visit. It ruled that the failure to arrest Bashir was unlawful.

The government was taking the case to the Constitutional Court next month, but now the legal battle would be dropped.

Background to South Africa Withdrawal

South Africa has resisted Bashir’s arrest while attending the African Union summit in Johannesburg last year. The country claimed he had immunity as the head of a member state.

An emergency order was obtained from the High Court during the summit, ordering Bashir’s arrest. Government lawyers admitted he had quickly flown out of the country just before the order was issued.

South Africa’s failure as an ICC signatory to arrest Bashir last year led to a wave of condemnation. It was met with an early threat from the government to withdraw from The Hague-based court.

Bashir has evaded arrest since his ICC indictment in 2009 for alleged war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur conflict in which 300,000 people were killed and two million forced to flee their homes.

Several African governments say the ICC has shown a post-colonial bias against the continent’s leaders, and opposition to the court has grown in recent years.

Earlier this month Burundi said it would withdraw, and Namibia and Kenya have also raised the possibility.

South Africa, which delivered a letter to the United Nations on Wednesday to activate its formal withdrawal, is likely to complete the process in one year.

This month, the ICC found former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba and four aides guilty of bribing witnesses.

The case at the court in The Hague was the first such corruption trial in its history.

Its chief prosecutor also recently sent a team to the Democratic Republic of Congo to urge restraint after weeks of deadly unrest.