The South African government said it is consulting International Criminal Court over the arrest warrant for Russian leader expected to attend the upcoming BRICS summit in Johannesburg next month.
South Africa which is a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court is obligated to arrest President Vladimir Putin of Russia a member of the BRICS bloc.
The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin on 17 March 2023, following an investigation of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the ongoing Special Military Operation in neighbouring Ukraine.
President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa on Tuesday said the a court order that would force him to commit to arresting President Putin if he attends a BRICS summit in Johannesburg would be premature, and effecting such a ruling would be a declaration of war.
The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, approached the country’s High Court to compel the government to honour an ICC warrant issued against Putin that’s related to war crimes during the invasion of Ukraine.
“We understand we are bound by the Rome Statute but we can’t invite someone and then you arrest them. You can understand our dilemma,” South African Deputy President Paul Mashatile told Mail & Guardian.
“We would be happy if he [Putin] doesn’t come,” he said.
Mashatile said that Brazil, India, China and South Africa opposed holding the BRICS summit virtually, while India and Brazil rejected moving the 2023 summit to China.
South African President Ramaphosa has vowed to hold an in-person summit despite the ICC warrant against Putin.South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to hold an in-person summit despite the ICC warrant against Putin.
Meanwhile, in May, South Africa issued blanket diplomatic immunity to all leaders attending an August summit, meaning that President Putin can travel to Johannesburg and not fear the country acting on an ICC warrant for his arrest.
“This is a standard conferment of immunities that we do for all international conferences and summits held in South Africa, irrespective of the level of participation,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in May.
“The immunities are for the conference and not for specific individuals. They are meant to protect the conference and its attendees from the jurisdiction of the host country for the duration of the conference.”
Article 98 of the ICC Rome Statute states: “The court may not proceed with a request for surrender or assistance which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international law with respect to the State or diplomatic immunity of a person … of a third state, unless the court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State for the waiver of the immunity.” Some say this wording provides South Africa with a chance to invite Putin and not be under any obligation to arrest him.
A similar row occurred in 2005 when the then Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir came to South Africa. He swiftly left the county as it became increasingly likely that the South African high court was about to rule that he had to be arrested.