South Africa’s government has moved to allay fears that its decision to grant immunity to foreign officials participating in the Brics Summit in August means Russia’s president Vladimir Putin would escape arrest if he attended.
On Monday, international relations officials insisted the diplomatic immunities for those attending the summit, issued in a government gazette, had “nothing to do” with Mr Putin, who has been accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
According to a statement released by the department of international relations and co-operation the immunities are meant to protect conference attendees from the jurisdiction of the host nation.
“These immunities do not override any warrant that may have been issued by any international tribunal against any attendee of the conference,” the department said in a statement. In March, the ICC charged Mr Putin and members of his regime of being complicit in the illegal deportation of more than 16,200 children from Ukraine to Russia since his forces invaded its neighbour in February 2022.
South Africa’s presidency has invited all the leaders of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations to the summit for emerging markets in Johannesburg from August 22nd to 24th which will discuss the bloc’s enlargement among other issues. So far Mr Putin’s government has indicated he will attend the event. Since the war in Ukraine broke out, South Africa’s government has refused to condemn the Russian invasion, stating it has adopted a non-aligned approach to the conflict.
However, over the past 15 months, its western allies have become concerned that South Africa is surreptitiously supporting Russia. Earlier this month, the US’s envoy to South Africa, Ruben Brigety, told reporters that Washington believed weapons and ammunition were loaded on to a Russian naval vessel called the Lady R in Cape Town in December.
Just hours before the immunities were made public, South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, launched a court action aimed at forcing the African National Congress-led government to arrest Mr Putin if he attended the summit.
At the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, the Democratic Alliance sought a declaration from the court stating the government was “duty-bound in terms of the Rome Statute and the Implementation Act to arrest President Putin upon his arrival in South Africa”. The Democratic Alliance said in a statement on Monday that its court application outlined the precise steps to be taken should a request for Mr Putin’s arrest and surrender be forthcoming from the ICC.