Vladimir Putin is due to travel to South Africa next August for the BRICS summit. The ICC could force Pretoria to hand over the Russian president.
It was in 2015. While he was accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of genocide in Darfur, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir took malicious pleasure in playing cat and mouse with the international tribunal. The Head of State indeed regularly made public appearances in countries that had not signed the Rome Statute. With one exception: Omar el-Bashir had traveled to South Africa for an African Union summit. But Pretoria had refused to arrest public enemy number one.
In the summer of 2016, the ICC had scolded South Africa: Pretoria, as a signatory country to the Rome Statute, had an obligation to hand over al-Bashir to the ICC. The Sudanese president had, of course, shortened his stay to flee. But he had been warned that a court would potentially force the South African authorities to arrest him. Omar el-Bechir was then helped to leave South Africa, from a military base near Pretoria. An act of complicity, according to the ICC. According to South Africa, local laws guaranteed Omar al-Bashir total immunity.
South Africa signatory to the Rome Statute
At the time, President Jacob Zuma announced that he wanted to withdraw from the Rome Statute, and therefore from the ICC. In 2017, the South African government finally announced its decision to revoke the notice sent to the UN regarding its intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute. “This official cancellation of the ICC Notice of Withdrawal represents another chance for the South African government to rethink its decision to thwart the pursuit of justice,” Amnesty International said at the time.
Five years later, we will know if that has changed anything. Because, while Russian President Vladimir Putin is targeted by an international arrest warrant issued by the ICC - a first for the President of a country that is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council - South Africa must welcome head of state this year. THE BRICS summit is to be held in Pretoria at the end of next August. And Russia is part of this grouping.
But it is hard to imagine the South African authorities today arresting and handing Putin over to the ICC. It is even more difficult to imagine the Russian president going to South Africa without having the guarantee of being able to leave free. So far, Pretoria has managed to maintain a certain neutrality by not giving in to Western pressure asking it to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Another lobbying operation is therefore beginning to try to convince the African country not to let Putin walk around with impunity.
The ANC concerned
While waiting for the month of August, South Africa has decided to anticipate. Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor refuses to say what will happen to Putin when he sets foot on South African soil. She prefers kicking and, even if it is according to her "a subject of concern", she counts on the justice of her country to know what to do. Internally, however, the pressure is strong: facing the ANC, the Democratic Alliance calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa not to invite Vladimir Putin.
Still, for the other parties, there is no question of touching Putin. Because between Moscow and Pretoria, it's a long story, and there is no question of going back on the Russian support which dates from apartheid. The Kremlin, at the time, supported the African National Congress (ANC). The latter does not plan to hand Putin over to the ICC, but remains discreet on the subject. In the event of a risk of diplomatic scandal with The Hague, there is no doubt that Ramaphosa will make sure to recommend that Vladimir Putin not attend the BRICS summit.