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South Africa Asks ICC for Putin Arrest Exemption

FILE — Russian President Vladimir Putin meets South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at meeting with African leaders in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 17, 2023.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa Tuesday asked permission from the International Criminal Court not to arrest his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, as Pretoria prepares to host the upcoming BRICS summit.

A court submission published Tuesday shows that Ramaphosa argued that arresting Putin would amount to a declaration of war — a reiteration of sentiments passed in March by Dmitry Medvedev, a Putin ally.

Ramaphosa hopes that South Africa would be exempt of its ICC obligations to arrest Putin should he appear at the BRICS summit scheduled for next month.

The ICC has an arrest warrant on the East European leader, accusing him of the war crime of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia.

Ramaphosa’s plea to the ICC was delivered as a legal response to a court case brought by the opposition Democratic Alliance, DA, who compelled its government to arrest Putin should he set food in South Africa.

“South Africa has obvious problems with executing a request to arrest and surrender President Putin,” stated Ramaphosa’s affidavit, adding, “ Russia has made it clear that arresting its President would be a declaration of war.”

Attempts to get a comment from the ICC were futile after the spokesperson of the international body did not immediately respond to requests.

Ramaphosa’s plea followed discussions on alternate hosts of the BRICS summit, amid speculation of a possible move to China, a non-ICC signatory, however South African authorities insist that the summit will go ahead.

South Africa led an Africa mission comprised of six leaders from the continent, that went to Ukraine and Russia to broker peace amid ongoing war — efforts Ramaphosa argues would be jeopardized should his nation arrest Putin.

The Kremlin has yet to say publicly if the Russian president intends to go to the summit, and Ramaphosa said no final decision had been taken.

South Africa has previously threatened to withdraw from the ICC after it failed to arrest former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir when he attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg in 2015.

South Africa's justice minister Ronald Lamola on Monday told a United Nations event commemorating 25 years of the court that "the ICC must ... guard against becoming an instrument of global power struggles."

While South Africa has officially maintained neutrality on the Russia-Ukraine conflict — abstaining from voting on U.N. resolutions on the conflict — Western countries consider it one of Moscow's closest allies on the continent.