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South Africa must honor arrest warrant, ICC says ahead of planned Putin visit

Putin Ramaphosa BRICS
Vladimir Putin and Cyril Ramaphosa at the 2018 BRICS summit. Photo: Kremlin.ru
There can be no immunity for Vladimir Putin; he must be arrested if he comes to the BRICS visit, says the ICC chief prosecutor. South African president has stated Putin will attend in person, but Kremlin is still undecided.

South Africa should do “the right thing” and follow international law if Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the BRICS bloc summit in Johannesburg next month in person, International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan told CNN on Friday.

The ICC issued warrants in March for Putin and a Russian children’s rights official over alleged war crimes in Ukraine. As a member of the ICC, South Africa would be obligated to arrest Putin if he enters the country. However, South Africa has granted diplomatic immunity to all officials attending the BRICS summit, potentially allowing Putin to travel there without apprehension.

Khan stated South Africa does not need guidance on this issue, noting its history confronting apartheid crimes. “I don’t think they need lessons from me,” he said. “They are voluntarily a state party to the ICC, they know what the law is, and I think they would do the right thing.”

South African officials say granting immunity is standard protocol and may not override the ICC warrant.

Khan said the ICC will monitor the situation and respond accordingly. “I am a prosecutor, I need to be prudent and prepared for different scenarios with the tools I have available,” he remarked. The ICC chief prosecutor expressed hope South Africa would consider the example of Nelson Mandela when deciding how to proceed.

On 14 July, the Mail & Guardian reported that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa requested that Foreign Minister Lavrov head the Russian delegation to the BRICS summit instead of Putin to escape the conundrum, but the request was denied.

“We understand we are bound by the Rome Statute, but we can’t invite someone and then arrest them. You can understand our dilemma. We would be happy if he [Putin – ed.] didn’t come,” Paul Mashatile, Deputy President of South Africa, told the newspaper.

The same day, Ramaphosa said that Putin will attend the summit in person, Eyewitness news reported. The South African president had previously said that Putin is welcome at the BRICS summit in South Africa while visiting Kyiv in June. At the same time, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that the format of Putin’s participation in the summit has not yet been determined.

(left to right) Presidents Xi Jinping of China, Narendra Modi of India, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Michel Temer of Brazil, Vladimir Putin of Russia at the 2018 BRICS summit. Photo: kremlin.ru
(left to right) Presidents Xi Jinping of China, Narendra Modi of India, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Michel Temer of Brazil, Vladimir Putin of Russia at the 2018 BRICS summit. Photo: kremlin.ru
  • South Africa has vacillated in its response to the quandary of the ICC warrant putting Putin’s potential BRICS attendance in doubt.
  • Upon the ICC’s ruling, South Africa announced it would consult Russia on the matter of whether the ICC warrant would apply and invited Putin to attend via Zoom.
  • Ramaphosa said back in March that South Africa should withdraw from the International Criminal Court, but later his office announced it was a mistake.
  • This is not the first attempt by South Africa to withdraw from the ICC. The state tried to do so in 2016 after it ignored an arrest warrant for former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2015.
  • South Africa has been accused of supporting Russia in its war against Ukraine, despite claiming neutrality, by supplying weapons and ammunition and participating in naval driils with Russia and China.
  • The BRICS bloc consists of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Its annual summit is scheduled to take place in Johannesburg in August. Khan’s statements reflect the delicate position South Africa finds itself in as the ICC pushes for Putin’s arrest amid diplomatic protocol.
  • Ukrainian officials and NGOs have greeted the issuance of the ICC arrest warrant for Putin and Lvova-Belova, but still maintain the need for a separate tribunal for Russian war crimes.

South Africa’s naval drills with Russia, China “tantamount to joining war against Ukraine”

 

 

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