SA govt seeks legal advice on Putin arrest warrant

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Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Getty
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Getty

South Africa’s government is taking legal advice on how to handle an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin in the event the Russian leader attends a BRICS summit in August.

The ICC issued the warrant against Putin on March 18 for war crimes related to the alleged abduction of children from Ukraine. South Africa is a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the court, and may be obliged to execute the arrest order.

“We are awaiting a refreshed legal opinion on the matter,” International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor told South Africa’s state broadcaster on Friday. “We are concerned about the situation of the people of Ukraine. What we would want to do is be in a position where we could continue to engage with both countries to persuade them towards peace.”

South Africa has adopted a neutral stance on Russia’s war with Ukraine. The government’s position has drawn opprobrium from some of the nation’s biggest trading partners, including the US and the European Union, along with some of the nation’s biggest banks.

South Africa is unlikely to arrest any visiting head of state, said two officials at the foreign ministry who declined to be identified. The government and the ruling African National Congress are considering all options in an effort to avoid executing the warrant, they said.

Spokespeople for South Africa’s foreign ministry declined to comment.

The Kremlin has yet to decide on whether Putin will travel to South Africa for the BRICS summit, Interfax reported, citing spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

South Africa drew international criticism in 2015, when it refused to execute an ICC arrest warrant for then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir while he was attending an African Union summit in the country. Former South African President Jacob Zuma proposed withdrawing from the ICC in 2016, though that plan was later abandoned.

The South African government is scheduled to host a delegation of Russian ministers next week for a meeting of the two nations’ Joint Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation.

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