By Rédaction Africanews with AFP
South Africa’s main opposition party said on Tuesday that it had taken legal action to ensure that Vladimir Putin would be arrested if he set foot in the country, where he is due to attend a summit in August.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) is asking the courts for “an order” stipulating that if Mr Putin arrives in South Africa to take part in the Brics summit (a group of countries comprising South Africa, Brazil, China, India, and Russia), the government must arrest him, as required by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The ICC, based in The Hague, issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin in March for the war crime of “deporting” Ukrainian children as part of Moscow’s offensive against Ukraine.
As South Africa is a member of the ICC, it is theoretically supposed to arrest the Russian president on his arrival in the country.
But Pretoria, which maintains close diplomatic relations with Moscow and insists on its “neutrality” in the conflict in Ukraine, has not yet indicated whether it will do so.
The DA explains that it has launched a “pre-emptive” judicial application to ensure that the government “respects its obligations” and hands Mr Putin over to the ICC if he comes to South Africa. No “judicial ambiguity” should persist, the statement said.
Kremlin spokesman Boris Peskov confined himself to saying on Tuesday that Russia would be “duly represented” at the Brics summit, without specifying whether Mr Putin planned to attend.
Moscow “assumes, of course” that its Brics partners “will not be guided” by “illegitimate decisions”, namely the ICC arrest warrant, he added.
The DA’s legal action comes as the government granted diplomatic immunity to officials attending a meeting of BRICS foreign ministers this week, followed by a summit of heads of state in August.
Some read the decision as a preparatory step to provide legal cover for Putin’s visit, but Pretoria insists it is standard procedure for the organisation of international conferences.
“These immunities do not cancel an arrest warrant issued by an international court against any participant in the conference”, the foreign affairs ministry defended itself on Tuesday morning.
South Africa has been criticised since the start of the war in Ukraine for its proximity to Moscow. In April, Mr Ramaphosa said that the ICC’s arrest warrant against Mr. Putin was putting a “spanner in the works” for South Africa.