Interpretation and international law in South African courts : the supreme court of appeal and the Al Bashir saga

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 16
  • Abstract:

    The South African Constitution is regarded as an international-law friendly constitution. Much has been written about the willingness of South African courts to refer to international law instruments when interpreting and applying South African law. Yet, the extent to which South African courts have applied recognised tools and methods for the identification and interpretation of international law has not similarly been considered. The recent case concerning South Africa’s decision not to arrest the President of Sudan, Al Bashir, highlights the importance of a proper approach to the interpretation and identification of international law by South African courts. In this case, the Supreme Court of Appeal had to consider the complex interrelationships between two treaties, namely, the AU South Africa host country agreement and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, customary international law and a UN Security Council resolution. The objective of the article is not to determine the correctness or not of the decision. Rather, the article is aimed at assessing the Court’s approach to the methodological questions of interpretation and identification of international law. The article, therefore, evaluates whether the rules of interpretation as contained in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties have been applied by the Court in searching for the meaning of the instruments under consideration. It also assesses whether the relationship between the various sources of international law at play in the Al Bashir matter is adequately considered.