JOHANNESBURG â€” South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court has been revoked, the United Nations secretary-general says, stalling what would have been the first-ever departure from the tribunal that pursues the world’s worst atrocities.
A notice dated Tuesday on the U.N. treaty website says the move comes after a South African court ruled last month that the country’s decision to withdraw without parliament’s approval was unconstitutional.
South Africa shocked the international community last year when it informed the U.N. chief it would withdraw from the court that pursues cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Withdrawal comes a year after notification.
South Africa had been on track to be the first country to leave the tribunal, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands, and has more than 120 member states.
South Africa’s main opposition party challenged the withdrawal in court, saying it was illegal because parliament was not consulted. “South Africa does not want to be lumped together with pariah states who have no respect for human rights,” the Democratic Alliance said after the court decision.
It was not clear whether South Africa would challenge the court’s decision or continue to pursue an ICC withdrawal with the approval of parliament, where the ruling African National Congress party has a majority and likely would support it.
Three African countries last year made moves to leave the ICC, speaking fears of an African exodus. Only Burundi remains on a path to withdrawal. Gambia under new President Adama Barrow also has revoked its withdrawal.
ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said the court had taken note of the latest development, saying that “South Africa has played an important role in the creation of the ICC.”
Some African countries have argued that the court has unfairly targeted their continent and have instead advocated strengthening their own institutions to deal with threats to human rights. All but one of the court’s full-scale investigations are in Africa, though the majority were referred to the court by the African countries themselves and two by the U.N. Security Council.
South Africa’s withdrawal announcement had followed a 2015 dispute over a visit by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. Al-Bashir was allowed to leave South Africa even though a local court ordered authorities to arrest him.
South African officials are expected to attend an April 7 pre-trial hearing at The Hague over the incident.
Under the Rome Statute, signatory countries have a legal obligation to arrest anyone sought by the ICC. South Africa has said the treaty contradicts its diplomatic immunity law and prevents the country from acting as a regional peacemaker, a role that could require it to host adversaries on its own soil.
Backers of the court had been dismayed by South Africa’s move to withdraw, especially after former President Nelson Mandela had been a strong advocate for the court’s creation.
On Wednesday, South African legal experts including former international criminal prosecutor Richard Goldstone and U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay issued a statement to parliament urging it not to back ICC withdrawal and reminding it that South Africa was a founding member of the court.
Leaving the ICC “would add to the fear that South Africa is turning its back on an international rule of law,” the statement says.
Associated Press writer Mike Corder at The Hague, Netherlands, contributed.
Cara Anna, The Associated Press