In a controversial move, the South African government has extended its Diplomatic Immunity and Privileges Act to all international officials attending the upcoming BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) summit in August. This decision is seen as an attempt to facilitate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to South Africa, despite an outstanding arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
The ICC warrant has sparked a debate within South Africa, which as an ICC signatory, may be obligated to arrest Putin upon his arrival. However, the government appears to be exploring legal avenues to circumvent this obligation. In April, President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed an inter-ministerial committee to examine the issue, focusing on the wording of the Rome Statute, the ICC’s establishing charter.
Article 98 of the Rome Statute suggests that Putin could only be arrested in South Africa if Russia agreed to waive Putin’s immunity, an unlikely scenario. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov affirmed Russia’s commitment to the BRICS summit, stating that Russia attaches “enormous importance to the development of this format of integration.”
The South African government’s move has drawn criticism from opposition parties, with some launching legal actions to compel the government to enforce the ICC warrant. The Democratic Alliance, a prominent opposition party, has filed a court application to this effect.
The situation has strained South Africa’s international relations, particularly with the United States. The U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, has expressed concerns over South Africa’s non-aligned stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its recent military exercises with Russian and Chinese warships.
This diplomatic dilemma underscores the complex geopolitical dynamics at play as South Africa navigates its obligations under international law, its commitment to the BRICS economic bloc, and its historical ties with Russia. The outcome of this situation will likely have significant implications for South Africa’s standing in the international community and its future role within the BRICS alliance.