By Carien du Plessis
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -South Africa is mulling legal options if Russian President Vladimir Putin, the subject of a war crimes arrest warrant, attends a BRICS emerging economies summit in Johannesburg in August, Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said on Thursday.
The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for Putin related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and South Africa as an ICC member would theoretically be required to arrest him if he attends the BRICS summit.
“Our government is currently looking at what the legal options are with respect to this matter and I’ve indicated … that it is something the president will be best person to speak about (this) once it has reached a conclusion,” Pandor told reporters on the sidelines of a BRICS foreign ministers meeting in Cape Town.
Invitations have been issued to all heads of state from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa for the Aug. 22-24 summit in Johannesburg, she added.
The ICC issued the warrant for Putin in March, accusing him of the war crime of forcibly deporting children from Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine. Moscow denies the allegations.
One option gaining traction among South African officials would be to ask BRICS’ previous chair China to host the summit, a senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday.
But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday that reports the BRICS summit would be relocated to China from South Africa were fake, Interfax reported.
The Kremlin had said on Tuesday that Russia would take part at the “proper level”.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, whose views on international relations hold a lot of sway among government officials, said in a May 25 interview with radio station 702 that the summit was unlikely to take place in South Africa.
“Because of our legal obligations, we have to arrest President Putin, but we can’t do that,” Mbeki said.
A deputy minister, Obed Bapela, told Britain’s BBC on Tuesday that South Africa was planning to pass legislation that would give Pretoria the option to decide whether or not to arrest leaders wanted by the ICC.
Bapela did not respond to requests for comment. However, a justice department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there wouldn’t be enough time to get such a law approved by parliament before the summit.
South Africa on Monday issued diplomatic immunity to all leaders attending both the BRICS foreign ministers meeting and the August summit. The international relations department said this was standard procedure, however, for all international conferences in South Africa.
“These immunities do not override any warrant that may have been issued by any international tribunal against any attendee of the conference,” department spokesperson Clayson Monyela said.
South Africa previously signalled its intention to quit the ICC after protests over its failure in 2015 to arrest then-Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, wanted on genocide charges, when he attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg.
But the governing African National Congress decided in December that South Africa should abandon this process and try to effect changes to the ICC from within.
(Reporting by Carien du Plessis and Wendell Roelf; editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Sharon Singleton, Alexander Winning and Mark Heinrich)
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