South Africa will grant diplomatic immunity to all international officials attending the BRICS summit in August, a move that will allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to avoid arrest.
South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor issued a gazette notice on Monday extending its Diplomatic Immunity and Privileges Act to the summit delegates.
“In accordance with the powers vested in me by Section 6(2) of the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act, 2001, I hereby recognise the BRICS ministerial meetings to be held in Cape Town, South Africa, from 1 to 2 June 2023 and the 15th BRICS summit to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa from 22 to 24 August for the purpose of granting the immunities and privileges provided for in section 6(1) of the said Act as set out in the attached notice,” the gazette reads.
South Africa, which has close ties with Russia, has faced a diplomatic dilemma since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Putin in March over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
The two countries alongside China, Brazil and India form the BRICS bloc.
A signatory to the ICC, Pretoria is obliged to arrest Putin if he lands in South Africa.
Clayson Monyela, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesperson, defended the move, saying such notices are issued every time there is an international meeting in the country.
The government notice, released on Monday, followed Deputy President Paul Mashatile’s announcement that he would meet with the inter-ministerial committee tasked with seeking solutions concerning South Africa’s options for Putin’s visit.
“This is a standard conferment of immunities that we do for all international conferences and summits held in South Africa irrespective of the level of participation,” said the department on Tuesday.
“The immunities are for the conference and not for specific individuals. They are meant to protect the conference and its attendees from the jurisdiction of the host country for the duration of the conference.
“These immunities do not override any warrant that may have been issued by any international tribunal against any attendee of the conference,” added the ministry.
Initially, President Cyril Ramaphosa had announced that the ruling party had resolved that the country would quit ICC before backtracking hours later citing a “communication error”.
South Africa, which has strong economic and trade relations with the US and Europe, has been walking a diplomatic tightrope over the Ukraine conflict, choosing to maintain a neutral stance on the Russia/Ukraine conflict.
The International Relations Department said it is also looking at a legal opinion on handling the ICC’s arrest warrant.