According to a South African government official, South Africa is deliberating its options regarding an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, should he accept an invitation to attend the upcoming BRICS summit in August.
“As a member of the ICC, we would, in theory, be obligated to arrest President Putin under the warrant issued by the court in March, accusing him of forcibly deporting children from Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine, a war crime,” stated the official.
The allegations are vehemently denied by Moscow. Furthermore, a senior Russian official expressed skepticism about relocating the summit to China.
South Africa has already extended an invitation to Mr. Putin to participate in the BRICS meeting, scheduled to take place in Johannesburg from August 22 to 24. BRICS represents the major emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
Zane Dangor, the director-general of South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said, “No firm decision has been made yet.” He added that the ministers assigned to the matter would convene shortly to discuss a report outlining various options.
According to a senior government official, one option gaining traction among South African officials is to request that China, the previous chair of the group, host the summit. The official, who spoke anonymously, made this suggestion on Wednesday.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov dismissed reports of the BRICS summit being relocated to China, calling them fake, as reported by Russian news agency Interfax on Thursday.
The Kremlin also confirmed on Tuesday that Russia would participate in the summit at the “proper level.”
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki, whose views on international relations carry significant weight among government officials, stated in a recent radio interview that it was unlikely for the summit to take place in South Africa due to the government’s predicament.
Mr. Mbeki said, “Due to our legal obligations, we would be obliged to arrest President Putin, but we are unable to do so.”
Legal options are currently under consideration. Obed Bapela, a deputy minister in South Africa’s government, revealed to the BBC on Tuesday that the government intends to pass legislation granting the executive branch the authority to decide whether or not to arrest leaders wanted by the ICC.
While Mr. Bapela did not respond to requests for comment, an anonymous justice department official stated that there would not be enough time to secure parliamentary approval for such a law before the summit.
Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor clarified on Thursday that President Cyril Ramaphosa would ultimately confirm any decision made on the matter.
To address concerns, South Africa issued diplomatic immunity to all leaders attending the summit, as well as those attending the BRICS foreign ministers’ gathering in Cape Town this week. The international relations department clarified that this was standard procedure for all international conferences held in South Africa.
However, department spokesperson Clayson Monyela emphasized that these immunities do not supersede any warrant issued by an international tribunal against any conference attendee.
In 2015, South Africa previously signaled its intent to withdraw from the ICC following protests over its failure to arrest Sudan’s former president Omar al-Bashir, who was wanted on genocide charges, when he attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg. However, in December, the governing African National Congress party decided that South Africa should discontinue the withdrawal process and strive to effect changes to the ICC from within.