ICC arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin embarrasses South Africa

Will Pretoria roll out the red carpet for Vladimir Putin if he decides to go to the Brics summit scheduled for the end of August in South Africa? ? That's what they think 74 % of visitors to the South African site News24 interviewed in a short online survey. The arrest warrant for war crimes issued on 17 March by the International Criminal Court (CPI) against the Russian president took on a very particular resonance in South Africa.

The country is to host the Brics summit in August (Brazil, Russia, Inde, China and South Africa), to which Vladimir Putin has already been invited. The arrest warrant “is obviously a matter of concern” said Friday 24 mars Naledi Pandor, South African Minister for International Relations and Cooperation. In June 2015, the visit of Omar Al-Bashir, then President of Sudan under two ICC arrest warrants for genocide and crimes against humanity, left like a trauma in the country. Pretoria does not want to go through what was an incredible diplomatic-judicial saga again.
Read also : Article reserved for our subscribers The cumbersome case of Omar Al-Bashir in South Africa

Ten days before the 25th African Union summit, the government of the then president, Jacob Zuma, had provided all his guests with written assurances that they would be covered by the diplomatic immunity attached to their position. But as this summit of heads of state opened in Johannesburg on 14 June 2015, three judges of the High Court of Pretoria, seized of a complaint by the organization South Africa Litigation Center (LEAVE), ordered to prevent any departure of the Sudanese president, time to deliberate.
Twenty-four hours later, they demanded the arrest of Omar Al-Bashir, just as the former president flew over the South African skies, towards Khartoum. « God is greatest » (" God is the greatest ") had launched Omar Al-Bashir by treading Sudanese soil.
Handcuffing a Head of State ?

The South African authorities had to, they, wipe the plasters : the Sudanese president was resentful of this inglorious leak. ICC judges summoned South Africa to come to The Hague to provide explanations, while civil society accused the government of trampling on the decisions of its own judges. Pretoria then campaigned against the Court, threatening to quit its founding treaty.

Recently, South Africa has returned to a slightly more sympathetic position vis-à-vis the Court. The 10 mars, a few days before the announcement of the arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin, the government decided to withdraw a law that would have allowed the country to no longer be a party to the treaty of this Court. “South Africa’s political and economic links with other governments, Heads of State or any other senior government official cannot and must never again be an obstacle to the fight against impunity for atrocities”, warned on this occasion the director of the SALC, Anne Meerkotter.
Read also : Article reserved for our subscribers War in Ukraine : why the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin

Handcuffing a Head of State ? many states, even democratic, see the idea of ​​arresting a president as a nightmare, even if he is the leader of a totalitarian country. Arrest warrants for sitting heads of state still complicate diplomatic relations. “We are worried about the situation of the people of Ukraine”, said Minister Naledi Pandor, while explaining that South Africa wants to continue its relations with the two countries and “persuade them to move towards peace”.
A matter of domestic politics

Since the arrest warrant was issued, the government is awaiting "an updated legal opinion on the matter" declared the minister on Friday. Like the 123 members of the court, South Africa has ratified the ICC statute and would therefore have, according to his judges, the obligation to execute all his arrest warrants. The question nevertheless divides the jurists. Some assure that a country must respect the immunity of heads of state who have not joined the Court, as is the case with Russia.
Recalling that it has not ratified the ICC treaty, Moscow announced the opening of a criminal investigation against the prosecutor and the three judges who made the decision. In South Africa, the debate has become a matter of domestic politics. The virulent deputy Julius Malema, du Economic Freedom Fighters, denounced the "double weight, two measures” of the ICC, accusing him of having spared Western officials while recalling that Russia had supported the ANC against apartheid. Ten days after its broadcast, this arrest warrant targeting the head of state of one of the five permanent countries of the UN Security Council has already caused a lot of ink to flow.


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