JOHANNESBURG – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa backed down from a commitment to leave the International Criminal Court on Wednesday, just months before hosting Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who is wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes.
On Tuesday, Ramaphosa stated that the ruling African National Congress would seek to withdraw South Africa from the Hague-based court, which considers accusations of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. However, Ramaphosa’s office stated on Wednesday that he had made a mistake.
“South Africa remains a signatory to the ICC in line with a resolution of the ANC’s 55th National Conference – held in December 2022 – to rescind an earlier decision to withdraw from the ICC,” the president stated in a statement.
“The December resolution was reaffirmed at a meeting of the ANC’s National Executive Committee held during the weekend of April 21 to 24, 2023.”
In March, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin, accusing him of the war crime of forcefully deporting children from Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine. Moscow denies committing war crimes, including the forced deportation of minors, and claims that the ICC lacks jurisdiction because Russia is not a member.
Putin is scheduled to visit South Africa in August for a BRICS conference, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. South Africa, as an ICC member, would be compelled to imprison him.
Putin has not flown outside of Russia since the ICC warrant was issued. Since initiating the invasion of Ukraine last year, he has only traveled outside the former Soviet Union once, to Iran.
At its national conference in December, the ANC resolved that South Africa should forsake a legislative route to withdraw from the ICC and instead try to transform the institution from inside.
According to the presidency, South Africa would endeavor to establish an African continental criminal court to supplement the ICC as a court of last resort.