South Africa’s main opposition party said on Tuesday it had filed a lawsuit to force the government to arrest Vladimir Putin if the Russian president attends a planned summit in the country.
Pretoria has faced a diplomatic dilemma since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin, who is expected to travel to the country for a BRICS meeting in August.
On Tuesday, the Democratic Alliance (DA) party said it had filed a legal petition to ensure the government would detain the Russian leader and hand him over to the ICC “should President Putin set foot in South Africa”.
“This pre-emptive legal action is intended to ensure that South Africa meets its obligations,” DA Shadow Justice Minister Glynnis Breytenbach said in a statement.
Member of the ICC, South Africa, which maintains close diplomatic relations with Moscow, is to host the summit of the bloc Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS).
But the government has not yet said how it intends to deal with the Russian president’s difficult situation.
Breytenbach said the DA was seeking a “declaratory order” to avoid a repeat of 2015 when Pretoria failed to arrest then-Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was also wanted by the ICC.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined on Tuesday to say whether Putin would travel to South Africa for the summit.
“Russia will be duly represented,” Peskov said, adding that Moscow expected its BRICS partners “not to be guided” by “illegitimate decisions” such as the ICC arrest warrant.
The DA’s legal action comes as the government granted diplomatic immunity to officials attending a meeting of BRICS foreign ministers this week and the grouping’s heads of state summit in August.
Some read the move as a preparatory step to provide legal cover for Putin’s visit, which Pretoria denied.
“These immunities do not supersede any warrant which may have been issued by an international tribunal against a conference participant,” the South African foreign ministry said in a statement.
Their issuance was “standard” procedure for hosting international conferences, he said.
South Africa has refused to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine which has largely isolated Moscow on the international scene, saying it wants to remain neutral and prefers dialogue to end the war.
Earlier this month, President Cyril Ramaphosa said his country was under “extraordinary pressure” to choose sides in the conflict, following accusations he had tilted at the Kremlin.
Putin is wanted by the ICC on charges that Russia unlawfully deported Ukrainian children.