Jump to navigation

confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 28th April 2023

South Africa faces both ways in ICC-Putin row

Blue Lines

Facing the prospect of Russia's President Vladimir Putin, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, landing in Cape Town to attend a BRICS summit in August, Cyril Ramaphosa has backed himself into a corner. South Africa's membership of the ICC obliges the authorities to arrest Putin if he travels to the country. And western embassies in Pretoria regard the matter as a litmus test.

Late on 25 April, Ramaphosa issued a statement backtracking on an announcement earlier that day that South Africa intended to leave the ICC. The confusion, it appears, was over whether Ramaphosa's ANC had passed a resolution to leave the court.

Unhappiness about the perception, not without justification, that the ICC has been far more activist in prosecuting cases in Africa than other regions, is not unique to South Africa. Yet its confusion over whether to leave an international institution designed to try war criminals comes at a critical time. This week, diplomats and international officials were scrambling to flee Sudan having presided over failed negotiations for a transition to civil rule. They are leaving the Sudanese people to face the depredations of a conflict in which rival forces believe they operate with impunity. Yet, the rival commanders may one day be charged at the ICC. It would send a terrible signal for South Africa to weaken its support for the institution.