South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has asked permission from the International Criminal Court not to arrest Russia’s Vladimir Putin, because to do so would amount to a declaration of war, a local court submission published on Tuesday showed.
South Africa is due to host a summit of the BRICS club of nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – next month, which all of the heads of states of those countries are scheduled to attend.
But the ICC has an arrest warrant out for Putin, accusing him of the war crime of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia. South Africa, as an ICC member, is obliged to arrest him should he turn up for the summit.
Ramaphosa made the remarks in a legal response to a court case brought by the opposition Democratic Alliance to compel the government to arrest Putin should he set foot on South African soil. Ramaphosa’s response, which was filed on June 27th, was made public on Tuesday.
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In it, he said he had initiated proceedings with the ICC under Article 97, in which states can plead not to have to carry out an arrest because of problems that prevent it doing so.
Ramaphosa said he could not disclose details about these proceedings.
“South Africa has obvious problems with executing a request to arrest and surrender President Putin,” his affadavit stated.
“Russia has made it clear that arresting its sitting President would be a declaration of war,” he said.
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Ramphosa’s spokesperson declined to comment. An ICC spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In March, Putin ally Dmitry Medvedev said any attempt to arrest Putin would amount to a declaration of war.
South African officials have repeatedly said the summit will go ahead, despite the controversy with the ICC. But they are also discussing alternatives, amid speculation the summit could be moved to China, not itself an ICC signatory.
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Ramaphosa last month led six African leaders mission to Kiyv and Moscow aimed at brokering a peace deal. In his court submission, he suggested those efforts might be jeopardized.
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“An arrest of President Putin would introduce a new complication that would foreclose any peaceful solution,” he said.
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The Kremlin has yet to say publicly if the Russian president intends to go to the summit, and Ramaphosa said no final decision had been taken.
South Africa has previously threatened to withdraw from the ICC after it failed to arrest former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir when he attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg in 2015.
South Africa’s justice minister Ronald Lamola on Monday told a U.N. event commemorating 25 years of the court that “the ICC must … guard against becoming an instrument of global power struggles.”
While South Africa has officially maintained neutrality on the Russia-Ukraine war — abstaining from voting on UN resolutions on the conflict — Western countries consider it one of Moscow’s closest allies on the continent.
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