Officials are reportedly discussing the idea of moving the upcoming summit to China due to ICC charges against Vladimir Putin
Pretoria may ask Beijing to host the BRICS summit in August, so it would not have to deal with the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant against the Russian president, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing an anonymous government official.
The meeting involving Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa is scheduled to start on August 22. Russian President Vladimir Putin was dutifully invited to attend back in January. In March, however, the ICC charged him with war crimes based on Ukraine's claims about "forcible removal" of children during the armed conflict between the two neighbors. Moscow said the civilians were evacuated from under Ukrainian artillery fire and that, because Russia does not recognize the ICC's jurisdiction, the warrant was null and void.
South Africa, however, is a signatory party to the Rome Statute that chartered the ICC, and would be legally obligated to arrest Putin should he come to visit.
One of the options "gaining traction" in Pretoria was to ask China to host the BRICS event, said a senior government official who spoke with the agency on condition of anonymity. Like Moscow, Beijing is not a party to the Rome Statute.
"Because of our legal obligations, we have to arrest President Putin, but we can't do that," former South African President Thabo Mbeki said in a radio interview last week, explaining that the BRICS summit is unlikely to take place in South Africa for that reason.
South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor said on Tuesday that the diplomatic immunity extended to all summit attendees does "not override any warrant that may have been issued by any international tribunal."
Pretoria was considering passing a law that would give it some discretion in enforcing the ICC arrest warrants, Deputy Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Obed Bapela told the BBC on Tuesday. However, a justice department official who spoke with Reuters anonymously said there was not enough time to get such a law through parliament before the summit.
"There has been no firm decision," Zane Dangor, director-general of the department of international relations, told Reuters. He said the ministers assigned to the matter will meet soon to consider a report setting out all the options.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that Russia will take part in the BRICS summit at the "proper level," and added that Moscow expected partner countries such as South Africa not to be guided by "illegal decisions" such as the ICC warrant.