Russian President Vladimir Putin and his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa at a summit in 2019
South Africa plans to change its law so that it has the power to decide whether or not to arrest a leader wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), a deputy minister has told the BBC.
Obed Bapela’s remarks come amid intense speculation over whether South Africa stands by its invitation to Russia’s President Putin to visit in August.
The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for Mr Putin over the Ukraine war.
South Africa had earlier invited him to attend a summit of Brics leaders.
Russia has not said whether Mr Putin plans to attend the summit.
Meanwhile Pretoria has also granted diplomatic immunity to Russian officials attending, something that its foreign affairs department described as standard procedure.
Brics is intended to strengthen ties between the nations that make it up – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
“In June we’ll be submitting the law in parliament,” Obed Bapela, a deputy minister in the South African presidency, told the BBC World Service’s Newshour programme.
Through the law, South Africa “will give itself exemptions of who to arrest and who not to arrest,” Mr Bapela said.
Under its current laws, South Africa is obliged to arrest Mr Putin if he arrives on its shores, as it is a member of the ICC.
But South Africa has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, insisting it wants to remain neutral.
The ICC issued its warrant for Mr Putin in March, accusing him of being responsible for war crimes – though Moscow has rejected such allegations.
South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has launched a court application to compel the authorities to arrest Mr Putin should he arrive in August.
Mr Bapela said that South Africa was also writing to the ICC about a waiver.
This refers to article 98 of the Rome Statue, the treaty which established the court in 2002.
While article 27 says no-one is immune from prosecution by the ICC, article 98 appears to suggest that the ICC could not ask South Africa to arrest the Russian leader unless Russia agreed to waive Mr Putin’s immunity from prosecution.
The deputy minister also lashed out at the ICC for its “double standards”, saying the late Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president, would have been disappointed by the war crimes court.
“We never thought that the ICC that we have today will be what it is. They never indicted Tony Blair, they never indicted [George W] Bush for their killings of Iraq people,” he said, referring to the former UK and US leaders and their invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“Mandela would have said [that] the inequality, the inconsistency by the ICC, is a problem.”
Mr Bapela also pointed to past examples of exemptions of international justice, like the UK’s decision not to extradite General Augusto Pinochet in 1998.
The former Chilean dictator was arrested in London at the request of a Spanish judge seeking to put him on trial for human rights abuses during his 17-year rule, but the UK government freed him after 16 months on the advice of medical experts who said he was unfit to stand trial. He died back home in 2006.
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