South Africa grants BRICs summit attendees diplomatic immunity, denies link to Putin's ICC arrest warrant

South Africa grants BRICs summit attendees diplomatic immunity, denies link to Putin's ICC arrest warrant
Cyril Ramaphosa and Vladimir Putin on the margins of the first Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi, Russia / South Africa CGIS
By bne IntelliNews May 30, 2023

South Africa has conferred diplomatic protection on two international meetings it will host in June and August 2023, a declaration, reports say, paves the way for a visit to the country by Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

Pretoria said in a government gazette published on Monday (May 29) such immunity is routinely granted ahead of key events and is not meant to shield anyone in particular.

“This is a standard conferment of immunities that we do for all international conferences and summits held in South Africa irrespective of the level of participation,” South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) said, as cited by Bloomberg on Tuesday (May 30).

“The immunities are for the conference and not for specific individuals. They are meant to protect the conference and its attendees from the jurisdiction of the host country for the duration of the conference.”

South Africa invited Putin to attend an August summit of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) despite the Russian leader being wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for an alleged war crime of abduction of children from Ukraine. 

As a signatory to the Rome Statute that establishes the ICC, South Africa is thus obliged to act on the arrest warrant if the Russian leader physically attends the August 22 to 24 summit.

“These immunities do not override any warrant that may have been issued by any international tribunal against any attendee of the conference,” the department added.

DIRCO spokesperson Clayson Monyela told News24, a local publication, that the declaration of immunity was procedural and had nothing to do with the Russian president.

“That is a routine gazette we do each time we host an international conference or summit,” he said.

“It was gazetted today [Monday] because there is a meeting of the BRICS foreign ministers this weekend or this week in Cape Town, and we also included the summit taking place in August.  It is normal. It is routine. It's nothing special. It has nothing to do with the Russian president. This is the gazette of immunities we gazette each time we host an international conference or summit.”

Nicole Fritz, director of the Southern African Litigation Centre told News24 of South Africa that the notice did not override the Rome Statute and the declared diplomatic immunity had no application regarding South Africa's domestic or international ICC obligations.

Meanwhile, John Steenhuisen, leader of the country’s biggest opposition party, Democratic Alliance, a daily newspaper, Daily Maverick reports, filed a court application on Monday seeking an urgent order to the government to arrest Putin if the ICC requests South Africa to arrest him if he sets foot in the country.

“This is plainly a constitutional matter,” Steenhuisen says in his affidavit. “It involves the violation or possible violation of the rule of law (a foundational value of the Constitution) and separation of powers by the government, including by way of the threatened violation of South Africa’s international law obligations, which have been given effect domestically by the Implementation Act, which Parliament has bound South Africa to and on which the Supreme Court of Appeal has previously ruled.”

As the squabbling continues in South Africa over Putin’s likely visit, the local currency, the rand, according to Bloomberg, extended a decline, weakening 0.5% to R19.76 per dollar by 8:20 a.m. in Johannesburg on Tuesday (May 30).