Ramaphosa backtracks on ICC stance before possible Putin trip

By S’thembile Cele

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa walked back his statement that the country plans to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, as the authorities grapple with how to handle a potential visit by Russian leader Vladimir Putin this year.

Ramaphosa had said on Tuesday that the governing African National Congress decided to pull out of the ICC because of what the party said was its inconsistent application of international law. His remark was later contradicted by the ANC, which in a statement reaffirmed a party resolution in December to remain a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the court.

The president misspoke because of “an error in a comment” made at an ANC media briefing, his office said in a statement late Tuesday. “The presidency wishes to clarify that South Africa remains a signatory to the Rome Statute and will continue to campaign for equal and consistent application of international law,” it said.

South Africa’s membership of the ICC obliges the authorities to arrest Putin if he travels to the country to attend a BRICS summit scheduled for August. The government previously drew international criticism in 2015, when it refused to execute an ICC arrest warrant for then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir while he was attending a meeting of African leaders.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma proposed withdrawing from the ICC in 2016, though that plan was later abandoned. The government is currently taking legal advice on how to handle the arrest warrant for Putin.

Among the options being considered by the government is a legislative amendment that would “domesticate” the Rome Statute.

“This includes provision of article 98 of the statute that requires a waiver of immunities for persons charged by the ICC from third party countries where there is no referral by the United Nations Security Council,” the presidency said. “The manner in which the UK domesticated the Rome Statute to incorporate the provisions of article 98 has been recommended as a guideline case study.”

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