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Putin confirms he will attend BRICS summit in SA despite arrest warrant

By Kuben Chetty | The Mercury |

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted an in-person invite to attend the 15th BRICS summit in Durban in August, despite the International Criminal Court (ICC) issuing a warrant for his arrest.

South Africa’s BRICS Sherpa, Professor Anil Sooklal, yesterday confirmed that Putin, along with all other heads of state, had accepted the invite from President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The ICC, of which South Africa is a full member, issued a warrant of arrest against Putin and urged 123 countries who are signatories to the Rome Statute to arrest him.

This is for alleged war crimes related to the abduction of children from Ukraine.

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Sooklal said Ramaphosa had sent out invites to the leaders of Russia, Brazil, India and China.

“All of the leaders, including President Putin, have accepted the invitation and they are all looking forward to attending the summit in person in South Africa in August.

“It is the first time in four years, as a result of Covid-19, that we are convening in person.”

Sooklal said he was in Moscow two weeks ago where he met the Russian BRICS Sherpa.

“They are preparing to attend the summit and South Africa is preparing to host an in-person summit in August.”

Dr Noluthando Phungula, of the Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), said Ramaphosa’s government had a tough decision to make on what to do as soon as Putin arrived on South African soil.

“On the decision to extend the invitation, South Africa is well within its rights as an independent and sovereign state to participate as it wishes on the geopolitical landscape.

“There are many factors at play, but it would seem the long-standing relations between the two states during the liberation struggle have influenced South Africa’s stance to extend the invitation. South Africa is currently facing a serious energy crisis and has requested Russia to expand its nuclear power station, which Russia has also promised to finance,” said Phungula.

She said as one of the signatories to the ICC, and in theory as a member of the court, South Africa was obliged under Article 86 of the ICC statute and domestic law, as compliance with ICC orders is written into South Africa’s Constitution, to co-operate fully by arresting the Russian president as soon as he steps off the plane and to send him to The Hague for trial.

“We have heard from the Minister of International Relations that Pretoria is seeking legal counsel.

“Despite which way it goes, there will be consequences for South Africa. In 2015, after the failure to arrest former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the country faced much criticism from the international community for its failure to make the arrest.”

Phungula said the country attempted to withdraw from the Rome Statute soon after the controversy, but had then decided against that withdrawal.

“The case presents a complex geopolitical dilemma for South Africa.

“Pretoria needs to balance its ICC obligations, domestic responsibilities, historically friendly relations with Russia and prospects and ambitions within the BRICS grouping carefully to avoid unfavourable repercussions.”

Unisa Professor Emeritus of International Law André Thomashausen said that countries such as the US, China, Russia, India and Israel had not given their consent and support to the Rome Statute and the powers of ICC to arrest and prosecute could not be applied to heads of state of those major nations that had not adhered to the statute.

“Signatories of the Rome Statute, like South Africa, cannot apply ICC warrants against heads of state of non-signatories because the non-signatory states never waived their absolute rights of sovereign immunity and equal sovereignty, he said.

“The real purpose of the ICC warrant is to frustrate and derail the BRICS summit,” Thomashausen said.

DA leader John Steenhuisen has said that the country has a legal obligation to execute the arrest warrant issued by the ICC against Putin.

He said if Putin was in South Africa then it was obliged to, according to the rule of law and the Constitution, execute the arrest warrant.

The Presidency and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.