When the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued its arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin in March, I wrote here that, “he’s not going to be able to travel like he did before.”
Today, I’m happy to say, that prediction is proving true.
South Africa has announced Putin will not be joining other world leaders at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg in August, the top-level meeting bringing together Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Concerns about South Africa’s obligation, as an ICC signatory, to help arrest the ICC fugitive had sparked a “number of consultations,” they explained diplomatically.
Essentially, Putin wanted the South African government to let him avoid justice, and the South African government, under pressure from the opposition to be sure, put rule of law above global politics.
It’s only right and decent for South Africa to take its obligations seriously, given the gravity of the crimes involved.
The first arrest warrants in the ICC’s ongoing Ukraine investigation – for both Putin and Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova – concerned the mass abduction of children from Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine. The forced transfer of populations from occupied territory is a war crime.
Of course, Putin being restricted in his travel will not bring any immediate relief to Ukrainians suffering under Russia’s atrocity-ridden invasion. Moscow’s missiles continue to slam into residential apartment buildings across the country day after day.
But still, it’s hopeful to see there’s a cost to being an international fugitive who’s wanted for appalling crimes. At the very least, it sends a signal to other leaders and military commanders out there: if you commit atrocities, your options could become limited, maybe even your days numbered.
It is especially encouraging news when you consider what happened in a similar situation eight years ago.
In 2015, Omar al-Bashir – then president of Sudan and wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur – actually managed to visit South Africa, despite huge pressure for his arrest.
The fact that fugitive Putin today is unable to get away with what fugitive al-Bashir got away with eight years ago looks to me a lot like progress for international justice.