Home NewsEurope Will South Africa arrest Vladimir Putin? Probably not – here’s why

Will South Africa arrest Vladimir Putin? Probably not – here’s why

by Zahid Jadwat

The International Criminal Court (ICC) wants Russia’s Vladimir Putin in handcuffs. 


It is unlikely that South African authorities will handcuff Russian president Vladimir Putin if he personally attends the BRICS summit later this year, according to an expert.

“I cannot see any country executing an arrest warrant on Vladimir Putin from a practical perspective,” said Ahmed Jazbhay, a lecturer in Political Science at the University of South Africa (UNISA).

On Friday, the International Criminal Court based in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for the Russian premier over the unlawful deportation of children from Ukraine. Russia is not an ICC member country, but the arrest warrant means Putin’s world just got smaller. He could now face arrest if he sets foot in any one of 123 member states, including South Africa.

However, reflecting on past experience with former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir it seems unlikely South African authorities would get involved. There is also the possibility that Putin might send a representative when his Brazilian, Indian, Chinese and South African counterparts meet in August.

“It puts countries that are signatories [of the Rome Statute] in a rather sticky situation. He can travel freely into any state that is not a signatory, but it becomes a diplomatic nightmare for any countries who are signatories to the Rome Statute.”

Jazbhay also noted the apparent double standards regarding the choice of individuals subjected to the arrest warrant. He said the ICC would have to apply the law equally or else it should be disbanded.

“If the law cannot apply to everyone, it shouldn’t apply to anyone. We simply can go on in a world that doesn’t have the ICC – the world will go on, human rights violations will go on [and] the Ukraine conflict will be resolved outside the ICC and no-one will be held accountable.”


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South African interests

South Africa has officially claimed neutrality in the instance of the war in Ukraine, but vocally denounced Israeli incursions on Palestinian territory in the past. It also stood firm in its recognition of the Sahrawi peoples’ sovereignty in Western Sahara.

While some analysts described this as a “jellyfish” approach to human rights, Jazbhay said it boiled down to protecting South Africa’s own interests as a trading partner of Russia.

“If South Africa has to execute an arrest warrant, Russia being an important trade partner, it’s going to spell a diplomatic [and] economic nightmare. South Africa is not in a position to be fussy as to who it does business with.”

Jazbhay further stated that South Africa was “far from neutral,” adding, “the Western world knows that South Africa is in a sticky position so, unless South Africa does not directly get involved by supplying arms to Russia, the Americans and Europeans will overlook that.”

He also dismissed the idea that Pretoria was cosying up to Moscow in order to place it in a better position to negotiate an end to the conflict as “wishful thinking”.

“South Africa does not have that diplomatic muscle. The diplomatic muscle arises from economic muscle and South Africa, as we know, is in deep economic doldrums and unable to satisfy basic needs of citizens in this country, let alone negotiating an end to the conflict.”

Jazbhay reflected on the execution of Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa by that country’s military regime in 1995, which forced Nelson Mandela as president to tow the African line instead of act on his human rights policy.

“Even someone of the stature of Mandela was put in a place [and] told to tow the African line, even though he may have committed a crime against humanity. Even that idealism that was expressed by Mandela was quickly squashed.”


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Double standards

Jazbhay also noted “double standards” on behalf of the ICC when it came to meting out justice for human rights violations. He cited the American-British invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the lack of consequences as an example.

“There’s been crimes going on all around the world. Suddenly it happens in Ukraine and you want to issue an arrest warrant? There needs to be fairness and justice, and that’s the only way the ICC can redeem itself as a credible human rights body holding global leaders to account.”

Powerful western nations used the ICC in an effort to assert pressure on Vladimir Putin. If the Court wanted to redeem itself, Jazbhay suggested, it had to start by applying the rules to everyone.

“There’s been a lot of research done into various crimes in the world. For a start – and we’re not asking for too much – investigate what is going on in occupied Palestine, the Iraq war and charge leaders of the so-called Global North,” he said.

That being said, however, Jazbhay did not dismiss the possibility of there being a plausible case against Putin.

“The evidence has not been presented by any stretch of imagination. All we see is the alleged crimes, but I would assume that there is some evidence [and a] prima facie case against Putin. Just going by my knowledge of the nature of the conflict, there have been a lot of war crimes.”

If the ICC failed to deliver justice fairly, he said, it should be disbanded.

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