Pretoria has confirmed that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanded assurances that he would not be arrested before visiting South Africa last week to attend the 10th summit of the BRICS Forum.
International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said her department carried out “hectic… legal footwork… behind the scenes” to reassure Modi. His arrest or non-attendance at the summit would both have been a diplomatic disaster for South Africa.
No leader of the BRICs countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – has missed one of its annual summits.
Daily Maverick reported during the summit that the government had despatched energy minister Jeff Radebe to India on the eve of the event to assure Modi he would not face arrest.
A private South African organisation, the Muslim Lawyers Association, had laid charges against Modi for alleged war crimes and human rights violations against Muslims in the Indian territory of Kashmir, which Pakistan also claims.
The association was last month quoted as saying it was working on similar action against Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also attended the summit.
The charges being contemplated against Xi and Putin presumably also refer to their government’s actions against Muslim minorities, in China and Russia.
However, the lawyers went further with Modi by actually laying a charge with the NPA and the police.
Sisulu said at a press conference in Pretoria on Thursday that “since we had the al-Bashir case, most heads of state were particular about their own security. So there was a lot of legal footwork behind the scenes, well into the night.”
This referred to the drama which unfolded in 2015 when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited South Africa to attend an African Union summit. Legal activists went to court to demand that Pretoria arrest him as a fugitive from the International Criminal Court (ICC) of which South Africa is a member.
The South African government was later severely chastised by its own courts for letting al-Bashir escape before he could be arrested. The fall-out with the ICC prompted a decision by former president Jacob Zuma to withdraw from the ICC, but this decision has not yet been carried out and may not be.
Sisulu said Modi had been concerned by the case the Muslim Lawyers Association had laid against him with the NPA and with the police:
“Of course the Indian government was informed of this. And he wanted some assurance that the matter would be attended to before his arrival. We looked at the matter and we discovered a number of issues.”
The first was that the Muslim Lawyers Association had based their case on a report which they had said was an official UN document. (This was a report by the UN Human Rights Commission on Kashmir.)
Sisulu said, however, the report was by a UN rapporteur which had neither been tabled at the UN nor accepted by it.
“Therefore it is a non-document as it stands right now. It was quite clear that the Muslim Lawyers Association had been premature in their request to us and they duly withdrew their charges. And we duly informed the Indian Prime Minister that the charges had been withdrawn.”
Sisulu’s observation that the Muslim Lawyers Association case had been “premature” seems to suggest, however, that the government would entertain a more developed case. The association has indicated it intends pursuing the matter.
Sisulu also denied reports, emanating from leaks from her department, that Modi and Putin had been angry with Pretoria for not being invited for state visits to South Africa on the margins of the BRICS summit – as Xi was.
Xi also paid a state visit to South Africa at the time of the last BRICS summit which Pretoria hosted, in 2013. At that time a state visit by Putin was also added.
Sisulu said Xi had sent an envoy to congratulate Ramaphosa when he had been elected president in February. The envoy had taken the opportunity to ask if Xi could pay a state visit while in South Africa for the BRICS summit.
“So it was first come, first served,” she added.
She said Ramaphosa would later slot in state visits to and from the other BRICS countries. In the case of Brazil, this would be after the upcoming elections.
Sisulu said some BRICS countries were facing internal issues which meant state visits were not a priority. But these would eventually happen. DM
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