ICC chief prosecutor says he has 'every confidence' South Africa will arrest Putin

·3 min read

OTTAWA — The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor says he has every confidence that South Africa will arrest Vladimir Putin when the Russian president is expected to attend an international summit there in August.

Karim Khan defended his decision to issue the arrest warrant at a news conference in Ottawa Friday, saying it is a "litmus test" for whether the international community will take collective action against Putin for Russia's assault against Ukraine.

The court is trying to hold Putin personally responsible for war crimes including the abduction of Ukrainian children.

He is expected to attend the BRICS summit as Russia's representative, alongside the leaders of Brazil, India, China and South Africa.

"We've got to do our job, and the international community should do theirs," Khan said. "Are we all talk? Or is there collective action, that in 2023 we want to render these crimes of international concern extinct."

South Africa's ambassador to Canada recently told The Canadian Press that the country prefers the idea of peace talks to the West's approach of trying to punish the Russian aggressors.

The arrest warrant was the first the global court has issued against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

South Africa would be Putin's first trip to an ICC member state since the arrest warrant was issued in March.

Khan said he thinks the country will "want to act on the law for their own people and for the world they want to bequeath to their children."

While a special government commission determined South Africa would have no choice but to arrest Putin on its soil, high-ranking officials in the country, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, have cast doubt on whether that will happen in part because of strong ties to Russia.

Former Canadian diplomat and politician Allan Rock, who was in Ottawa with Khan, said the international community knows where Canada stands in terms of the rule of law, the authority of the ICC and accountability for alleged crimes.

"Canada has excellent relations with South Africa. But I respectfully share the view expressed by prosecutors that we can count on South Africa to do the right thing because of their commitment to the rule of law and because they share the same values that we do along the way," he said.

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed confidence Putin would be convicted of war crimes.

He said in The Hague that the Russian leader "deserves to be sentenced for (his) criminal actions right here in the capital of the international law."

The ICC counts on member states to execute its warrants. Ukraine is not a member of the court but is granting it jurisdiction over its territory and Khan has visited several times.

Russia doesn't recognize the court at all and Moscow dismissed the accusation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia considers the ICC decisions “legally void” and called the court’s move “outrageous and unacceptable.”

Peskov refused to comment when asked if Putin would avoid making trips to countries where he could be arrested, and has been noncommittal about whether Putin will actually attend the summit.

The U.S. also doesn't recognize the court, but President Joe Biden said it "makes a very strong point" to call out Putin's actions.

Not being able to attend international summits could further stain Putin's global reputation, as this was slated to be his first major foreign trip — and opportunity to play nice with a group of global leaders — since invading Ukraine last year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press.

David Fraser, The Canadian Press