South Africa’s opposition wants Ramaphosa to arrest Putin

 Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa and Vladimir Putin

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi.

Photo credit: AFP

What you need to know:

  • The ICC issued a warrant of arrest against Putin for alleged war crimes in Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
  • Opposition leader Steenhuisen says South Africa has a legal obligation to cooperate with the ICC.
  • South Africa is a signatory to the Rome Statute.

The leader of South Africa’s main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) John Steenhuisen has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to arrest Russian leader Vladimir Putin should he set foot in the country.

On March 18, 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant of arrest against Putin for alleged war crimes in Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

And with South Africa being a signatory to the Rome Statute, Mr Steenhuisen says the country has a legal obligation to cooperate with the ICC and help put President Putin behind bars when he lands in South Africa.

“I think that any responsible president would advise Putin, given the ICC arrest warrant, that he should perhaps not come,” said Mr Steenhuisen.

“But if he does come, I think South Africa is obliged — if it’s for the rule of law and (if you) govern according to the constitutional principles — you would be obliged to execute that arrest warrant.

Legal obligation

“If he is here, we have a legal obligation. The principle of the rule of law means equality before the law, and South Africa is obliged to execute that. We have not left the ICC. We’ve remained signatories. Putin must be arrested,” he added.

The Russian leader is scheduled to attend the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in South Africa in August, as confirmed by the International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor.

However, the South African International Relations Department and President Ramaphosa await legal advice on handling Putin’s trip to South Africa.

Country’s reputation

In addition, the DA urged the South African leader to prioritise the country’s reputation by arresting Putin or ensuring he is not among the leaders attending the BRICS summit.

“The country simply cannot afford another hit to our reputation. The Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey listing due to the failure to effectively combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism has already caused the rest of the world to view South Africa’s global transactions as high-risk,” said the DA in a statement.

“And the failure to arrest former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2015 certainly indicates that despite its many utterances to the contrary, the ANC government does not prioritise human rights.

“The ICC’s issuing of a warrant for Putin’s arrest for alleged war crimes should serve as a final warning to the ANC that while the governing party might make light of the invasion of a neighbouring country, the international community does not.

“If President Ramaphosa insists on placing his friendship with a wanted war criminal over the well-being of his people, we call on him to ensure the meeting takes place on neutral ground and that peace and Russia’s immediate withdrawal from Ukraine be prioritised.

“South Africa is already seen as weak, inactive and rudderless – we do not need to add sympathiser of war criminals to the list.”