JOHANNESBURG, May 30, 2023 (AFP) – South Africa’s leading opposition party said on Tuesday it had taken legal action to force the government to arrest Vladimir Putin if the Russian President were to attend a planned summit in the country.
Pretoria has been faced with a diplomatic dilemma since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Putin, who is supposed to visit the nation for a BRICS meeting in August.
On Tuesday, the Democratic Alliance (DA) party said it launched a court application to ensure the government detains the Russian leader and hands him over to the ICC “should President Putin set foot in South Africa.”
“This pre-emptory court action aims to ensure that South Africa upholds its obligations,” DA shadow minister of justice Glynnis Breytenbach said in a statement.
A member of the ICC, South Africa, which has close diplomatic ties with Moscow, is due to host the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) bloc summit.
But the government is yet to say how it intends to deal with the Russian president’s predicament.
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 similarly wanted by the ICC.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov on Tuesday declined to say whether Putin will travel to South Africa for the summit.
“Russia will be duly represented,” Peskov said, adding Moscow expected its BRICS partners “not 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 BRICS foreign ministers meeting 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 — something Pretoria has denied.
“These immunities do not override any warrant that may have been issued by any international tribunal against any attendee of the conference,” South Africa’s foreign affairs department said in a statement.
Their issuing was “standard” procedure for the hosting of international conferences, it said.
South Africa has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which has largely isolated Moscow on the international stage, saying it wants to stay neutral and prefers dialogue to end the war.
Earlier this month, President Cyril Ramaphosa said his country has been under “extraordinary pressure” to pick sides in the conflict, following accusations it has tilted towards the Kremlin.
Putin is wanted by the ICC over accusations that Russia unlawfully deported Ukrainian children.