The South African government has said it will extend its Diplomatic Immunity and Privileges Act to all international officials who plan to attend an August summit in the country.
According to CBS News, the controversial move was clearly an attempt to pave the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin to travel to South Africa despite the International Criminal Court (ICC) issuing a warrant for his arrest in March over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
As a signatory to the ICC, South Africa may be obliged to arrest Putin if he sets foot in the country, but its government appears to be looking for a way around that obligation.
Senior government officials tell CBS News that Putin’s possible attendance at the summit of the BRICS block of developing nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — has been a topic of discussion at the “highest levels” in South Africa since the arrest warrant was issued.
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In April, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed an inter-ministerial committee headed by his Deputy President Paul Mashatile to look into the matter. CBS News understands the government is looking into the wording of the Rome Statute, the charter that established the ICC, for a possible loophole that would enable Putin to attend without South Africa having to arrest him.
Article 98 of the ICC Rome Statute states: “The Court may not proceed with a request for surrender or assistance which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international law with respect to the State or diplomatic immunity of a person… of a third state, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State for the waiver of the immunity.”
That wording suggests Putin could only be arrested in South Africa if Russia agreed to waive Putin’s immunity from prosecution, granted by the move taken on Tuesday, which it obviously wouldn’t do.
Speaking Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “Russia attaches enormous importance to the development of this (BRICS) format of integration. And Russia will take part in this summit at the proper level.” Russian officials had previously said that Putin had been invited to attend the summit.
“Of course, we count as a bare minimum on partner countries in such an important format not being guided by such illegal decisions,” Peskov responded when pressed on the possibility of Putin being arrested at the summit. Russia, which like the U.S. is not a signatory to the ICC, has always dismissed the international court’s indictment of Putin as a baseless and illegal move.