South Africa plans to change Putin’s ICC arrest warrant law

Vladimir Putin and Cyril Ramaphosa at a Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in 2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa at a summit in 2019

South Africa is considering changing its law so that it has the power to decide whether or not to arrest a leader wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), a deputy minister has told the BBC.

Obed Bapela’s remarks come amid intense speculation over whether South Africa is standing by with its invitation to Russian President Putin to visit in August.

The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Putin for the war in Ukraine.

South Africa had previously invited him to attend a summit of Brics leaders.

Russia did not say whether Mr Putin planned to attend the summit.

Meanwhile, Pretoria also granted diplomatic immunity to the Russian officials present, which its foreign affairs department described as standard procedure.

Brics is intended to strengthen ties between the nations that make it up – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

“In June we will bring the law to parliament,” Obed Bapela, deputy minister for the South African presidency, told BBC World Service’s Newshour program.

Through the law, South Africa “will give itself exemptions on who to arrest and who not to arrest”, Bapela said.

Under its current laws, South Africa is obliged to arrest Mr Putin if he arrives on its shores, as it is a member of the ICC.

But South Africa has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, insisting it wants to remain neutral.

The ICC issued its warrant against Mr Putin in March, accusing him of being responsible for war crimes – although Moscow has denied those claims.

South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has filed a legal petition to compel the authorities to arrest Mr Putin if he arrives in August.

Bapela said South Africa was also writing to the ICC about a waiver.

This refers to Article 98 of the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the court in 2002.

While Article 27 states that no one is immune from ICC prosecution, Article 98 seems to suggest that the ICC could not ask South Africa to arrest the Russian leader unless Russia agrees to waive Mr. Putin’s immunity from prosecution.

The deputy minister also slammed the ICC for its “double standards”, saying the late Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president, was said to have been let down by the war crimes tribunal.

“We never thought the ICC we have today will be what it is. They never charged Tony Blair, they never charged [George W] Bush for their murders of the Iraqi people,” he said, referring to former British and American leaders and their 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Mandela would have said [that] the inequality, the inconsistency of the ICC, is a problem.”

Mr Bapela also pointed to past examples of exemptions from international justice, such as the UK’s decision not to extradite General Augusto Pinochet in 1998.

The former Chilean dictator was arrested in London at the request of a Spanish judge seeking to bring him to justice for human rights abuses during his 17-year rule, but the British government freed him after 16 months on the advice of medical experts who declared him unfit to stand trial. He died at home in 2006.

Leave a Comment