President Cyril Ramaphosa greets Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Konstantinovsky Palace in St. Petersburg as part of the African Peace Mission talks on June 17, 2023.
- President Cyril Ramaphosa wanted to keep the reasons for not arresting President Vladimir Putin secret.
- The DA launched a Supreme Court motion to force the government to arrest Putin should he ever reach South Africa.
- The presidency had claimed that the International Criminal Court prevented it from speaking about the issued arrest warrants.
President Cyril Ramaphosa told the Gauteng High Court that arresting Russian President Vladimir Putin, if he travels to South Africa for the BRICS summit in August, would amount to a declaration of war against Russia.
And the president doesn’t want the public to know that.
However, the court ruled on Tuesday that Ramaphosa and his government’s response to the DA’s legal attempt to force the government to arrest Putin must be made public.
“It would be a reckless, unconstitutional and illegal exercise of the powers vested in the government to declare war with Russia by arresting President Putin,” Ramaphosa told the court in an affidavit that he said should be kept secret.
The court disagreed with the presidency’s assertions that Ramaphosa wanted to keep his testimony confidential “to preserve dealings with the ICC.” [International Criminal Court] On the arrest warrant against President Putin is classified.
In the affidavit, which has since been made public, Ramaphosa said he did not want to risk war with Russia.
“It would be inconsistent with our Constitution to risk going to war with Russia. I have constitutional obligations to protect the national sovereignty, peace, and security of the Republic, and to respect, protect, promote, and fulfill the rights of the people of the Republic to life, safety, and security among other rights in the Bill of Rights.”
In defense of confidentiality, Ramaphosa quoted an article of the Rome Statute which states that the requested State “shall keep the request for cooperation and any documents supporting the request confidential, except to the extent that disclosure is necessary for the execution of the request”. South Africa is a signatory to the Rome Statute that governs the International Criminal Court.
In the wake of Tuesday’s ruling, the Presidency said Ramaphosa “never opposed the publication of the affidavits; only in compliance with ICC directives did the Presidency endeavor to keep the affidavit confidential.”
The Supreme Court order came in response to the DA’s request that the government should “take all necessary steps to arrest and detain President Putin for surrender to the International Criminal Court” should he arrive for the BRICS summit, which is expected to run from August 22-24 in Johannesburg. .
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin in March, accusing him of war crimes related to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine since February last year.
The DA relies on the 2015 Supreme Court of Appeal ruling that it was illegal for the government not to arrest former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he attended an African Union summit in June of that year. The International Criminal Court also issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir over alleged war crimes he committed during his 26-year rule before he was overthrown in a 2019 military coup.
Ramaphosa said in his affidavit that the DA’s request for the government to arrest Putin was “incompetent” because “the South African government is not a party to the request and therefore no assistance can be granted against it”.
The DA cited government ministries such as Justice, Police, International Relations and Cooperation, as well as the National Police Commissioner.
The DA disputed Ramaphosa’s arguments in a response affidavit, saying that the 2015 SCA ruling Al-Bashir “referred to said state employee as the government.”
“For this reason alone, the defendants’ complaint has no basis,” said lawyer Elsan Juncker.
She added that Ramaphosa, in his papers, did not claim that Putin deserved immunity from arrest and surrender to the International Criminal Court, either internationally or domestically.
“All of the defenses seek to poke holes in the way the DA brought the case, rather than asserting that should President Putin arrive, the government has the right to arrest him. Yet at the same time, the president never said that, well, they would be arrested.”
Instead, he is [Ramaphosa] He ignores the case – he tells the court that the government knows its obligations, without ever saying what it thinks those obligations are.
He tells this court that the government is trying to negotiate with BRICS or the ICC, without revealing what it will do if those negotiations do not bear fruit.
The Supreme Court also ordered the Media Advocacy Organization for Africa (MMA) to be accepted as an “amic of the court,” meaning it could participate in the DA’s application. The organization argued in favor of public access to Ramaphosa’s affidavit.
In an affidavit, MMA Director William Baird said, “The more the matter involves the need for accountability, truth-seeking, and assurance that justice has been done, the greater the need to ensure open justice.”
He had cited several Constitutional Court rulings in confirming his argument, including a 2015 ruling on coverage of the Oscar Pistorius trial.
The issue will now be discussed in open court on Friday.