(CNSNews.com) – The International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on suspicion of war crimes in Ukraine is posing a challenge for South Africa as it prepares to host a meeting this year that Putin is scheduled to attend.
South Africa, which holds the rotating presidency of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) club of leading emerging economies, is hosting its 15th leaders’ summit in Durban in August.
South Africa is also a party to the treaty that created the ICC, the Rome Statute, and as such has “an obligation to cooperate fully with the ICC.” The cooperation required of the 123 Rome Statute parties includes arresting wanted suspects who enter their jurisdiction and surrendering them to the tribunal based in The Hague.
A spokesman for President Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters that all BRICS heads of state would naturally be expected to attend the summit, “but now we have a spanner in the works in the form of this ICC warrant.”
“What that dictates is that there will be further engagements in terms of how that is going to be managed,” said the spokesman, Vincent Magwenya. “Those engagements are under way and once they have been concluded, the necessary announcements will be made.”
Magwenya said he did not want to “pre-empt the outcome of those engagements.”
Like most non-Western countries, South Africa has not sided with the U.S. and its allies against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. It does not support sanctions and has abstained in all six U.N. General Assembly resolutions adopted in 2022 and 2023 critical of the invasion.
But South Africa has gone further, welcoming Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for an official visit in January, and hosting joint naval exercises with Russia and China the following month, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier this month, a delegation from the governing African National Congress (ANC) visited Moscow at the invitation of the ruling United Russia party, led by Putin crony and former president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Magwenya said Ramaphosa has told President Biden that Pretoria wants a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine, and believes that can only be achieved through negotiations.
The United States is not a party to the Rome Statute although Biden said last month the ICC warrant for Putin was “justified,” and that the Russian president has “clearly committed war crimes.”
South Africa has had a run-in with the ICC before, after it chose not to arrest then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he visited the country for an African Union summit in 2015.
Bashir faced charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide arising from the conflict in Darfur.
Under fire after its decision not to arrest him, the South African government announced in 2016 that it was withdrawing from the Rome Statute, but the country’s High Court subsequently declared the move unconstitutional.
ICC judges ruled in 2017 that South Africa should have arrested Bashir, but took no further action.
Bashir dodged arrest for years, traveling to at least 10 countries – including other Rome Statute parties such as Jordan, Malawi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – without being apprehended. He was ousted in a military coup in 2019, and the ICC still views him as being “at large.”
The ICC last month issued arrest warrants for Putin and his government’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, accusing them of deporting children from occupied parts of Ukraine to Russia, a war crime under the Geneva Convention.
Last week, the South African Communist Party, a close ally of the ANC, called on the government to ensure that Putin attends the BRICS summit and “is afforded safe passage,” and to “act with speed” in pulling out of the ICC.
It accused the ICC of having “consistently refused to charge the likes of Netanyahu, Bush, Clinton, Blair, and Obama who have destroyed countries and killed thousands of people.”
The SACP in an earlier statement said the tribunal functions as a “United States-led imperialist forces’ judicial-styled political instrument in their pursuit of their interests and agendas.”
In their drive to create what they call “a more just and democratic multipolar world,” Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have highlighted the importance of developing and expanding non-Western groupings they belong to, including BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
The five current BRICS members already account for more than 40 percent of the world’s population and 24 percent of global GDP, and more than a dozen other countries are keen to join, including Iran, Nicaragua, Argentina, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia.
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