JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa is considering its options for an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for Russian President Vladimir Putin if he accepts an invitation to attend the BRICS summit in August, a South African government official said.
As a member of the International Criminal Court, South Africa would theoretically be required to arrest Putin under a warrant issued by the court in March, which charged him with the war crime of forcibly deporting children from Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine.
Moscow denies these allegations. A senior Russian official also poured cold water on the idea of moving the summit to China.
South Africa had already on January 25 invited Putin to a meeting on August 22-24 in Johannesburg of leaders of the BRICS emerging economies comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
“There was no firm decision,” said Zane Dangor, director general of the Department of International Relations, adding that the ministers in charge of the matter will meet soon to consider a report outlining the options.
A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday that one option gaining traction among South African officials is to ask China, the group’s former chairman, to host the summit.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Thursday that reports that the BRICS summit would be relayed to China from South Africa were fake, Interfax reported.
The Kremlin said on Tuesday that Russia would participate at the “appropriate level”.
Former President Thabo Mbeki, whose views on international relations hold sway among government officials, said in a May 25 interview with radio station 702 that the summit was unlikely to take place in South Africa.
“Because of our legal obligations, we have to arrest President Putin, but we can’t do that,” Mbeki said.
Deputy Minister Obed Babila told the BBC on Tuesday that South Africa plans to pass legislation giving Pretoria the option to decide whether or not to arrest leaders wanted by the ICC.
Babila did not respond to requests for comment. However, a Justice Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there would not be enough time to get such a law passed by Parliament before the summit.
South Africa on Monday issued diplomatic immunity to all leaders who attended the meeting and gathering of BRICS foreign ministers in Cape Town this week. The Department of International Relations said this is standard procedure for all international conferences in South Africa.
“These immunities do not invalidate any warrant that may have been issued by any international court against any person attending the conference,” said ministry spokesman Clayson Monyella.
South Africa had previously expressed its intention to withdraw from the International Criminal Court after protests over its failure to arrest former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, wanted on genocide charges, when he attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg in 2015.
The ruling African National Congress decided in December that South Africa should abandon the process and try to bring about changes in the ICC from within.
Reporting by Carien du Plessis; Editing by Olivia Komwenda Mtambo, Edmund Blair and Sharon Singleton
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