n South African Journal of Criminal Justice - The long walk to accountability for international crimes - reflections from South Africa

Volume 27, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1011-8527
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2118



The special edition of this journal allows a chance to reflect on twenty years of constitutional democracy. This article's focus is on a particular area of development in the field of international criminal law, how those developments have resonated inwardly within South African law, and lessons that might be drawn outwardly for other states that are faced with similar challenges. The area of development I am concerned to discuss is the concept of complementarity, which is a principle embedded within the international criminal justice system of the International Criminal Court ('the ICC'. While the world since 2002 has had a permanent international criminal court doing its work in The Hague, a central feature of the Rome Statute of the ICC (its founding document ('the Rome Statute') is that states parties to the ICC are encouraged to investigate and prosecute ICC crimes domestically. It is only if states are unwilling or unable to do so that the ICC is permitted to intervene. Increasingly, for reasons I shall explore, there is a growing recognition that complementarity - and its embrace of domestic efforts to tackle international crimes - is likely to be a serious (if not the) mechanism by which to ensure the legitimacy of the international criminal justice project. But as we shall also see, while in principle the notion of domestic prosecutors acting as conduits of international justice is appealing, the practicalities of that work are challenging, and any domestic steps to hold international criminals accountable bear their own political and legal challenges. The South African experience is both illuminating and sobering in this regard.

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