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U.N. chief urges South Africa's Zuma to reconsider quitting ICC

President Jacob Zuma addresses a press conference after his dismissal as Deputy President by then President Thabo Mbeki in Cape Town, South Africa June 14, 2005. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged South African President Jacob Zuma on Sunday to reconsider its plan to withdraw from the International Criminal Court in October next year.

The International Criminal Court, which opened in July 2002 and has 124 member states, is the first legal body with permanent international jurisdiction to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

South Africa and Burundi have officially notified the United Nations of their intent to withdraw from the Rome Statute, the 1998 treaty establishing The Hague-based court. The withdrawals will take effect in October 2017.

After Ban spoke with Zuma by phone on Sunday, his spokesman issued a statement saying Ban “appreciates the continued and unwavering commitment of the South African government to justice and accountability” and hopes it will reconsider its decision.

Ban told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that he regretted the ICC departures and said they could “send a wrong message on these countries’ commitment to justice.”

Gambia said last week it also plans to withdraw from the court but it has not yet notified the United Nations.

Reporting and writing by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bill Trott