South Africa is not planning to quit the International Criminal Court (ICC) as suggested earlier by President Cyril Ramaphosa, his office says, citing a communication error from his ruling ANC party.
Hours earlier, Ramaphosa had said the African National Congress had decided to withdraw South Africa from the court, which last month issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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The ICC warrant means South Africa – due to host this year’s BRICS summit of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – would have to detain Putin on arrival.
“The presidency wishes to clarify that South Africa remains a signatory” to the ICC, Ramaphosa’s office said on Tuesday in a late-night statement.
It said the “clarification follows an error in a comment made during a media briefing held by the governing African National Congress”.
The ANC had earlier told journalists that the issue of South Africa withdrawing from the ICC had been raised at a weekend meeting of its national executive council.
Then, when questioned by a journalist during a joint news conference with visiting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Ramaphosa said the ANC “has taken that decision that it is prudent that South Africa should pull out of the ICC”.
The presidency said “regrettably” Ramaphosa had “erroneously affirmed a similar position” to the ruling party.
In another statement Tuesday night, the ANC said an “unintended impression may have been created that a categorical decision for an immediate withdrawal had been taken. This is not so.”
It said the executive committee, the party’s supreme decision-making body, had discussed the “unequal” and “often selective application of international law by the ICC”.
The arrest warrant against Putin followed accusations that the Kremlin unlawfully deported Ukrainian children.
On whether South Africa would arrest Putin, Ramaphosa said, “That matter is under consideration.” But ANC Secretary General Fikile Mbalula earlier declared, “Putin can come anytime in this country.”
Pretoria has close ties with Moscow, which date back decades to when the Kremlin supported the ANC’s fight against apartheid.
The continental powerhouse has refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, which has largely isolated Moscow on the international stage, saying it wants to stay neutral and prefers dialogue to end the war.
South Africa has “adopted this stance of being non-aligned to ensure that we are able as a country to play a role in helping conflict to come to an end,” Ramaphosa said.
He said he had spoken to Putin several times about the need for negotiations.
Ramaphosa, who last year blamed NATO for the war in Ukraine, said he respected Finland’s recent decision to join the military alliance.
“It’s within Finland’s right to decide to join NATO. We respect that and we accept that,” said Ramaphosa as he hosted his Finnish counterpart, who is in South Africa for a three-day state visit.
South Africa made an attempt to pull out of the ICC in 2016 after a dispute a year earlier when then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited the country for an African Union summit. It refused to arrest him despite him being the subject of an ICC arrest warrant for alleged war crimes.
That decision to pull out was revoked when a domestic court ruled such a move would have been unconstitutional.