International Forum on "War and Accountability" Wolfsberg, Switzerland 23 May 2002. Address by Minister Dlamini Zuma of the Republic of South Africa

The President of the ICRC

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

We wish to express our sincere thanks to the International Committee of the Red Cross for organising and inviting us to address this august gathering considering the important challenges faced by the international community as regards "War and Accountability" in this changed and continuously changing international political environment.

Informed by the principles of neutrality and impartiality espoused by that renowned humanist Henri Dunant, the ICRC since its inception in 1863 has played a principal and weighty role in mitigating the negative impact of conflicts on civilians, especially women and children. Coming from Africa which has and continues to suffer a disproportionate share of conflicts we can attest to the cardinal role played by the ICRC in dealing with the destructive and distressing consequences of war.


In its own words, the ICRC’s humanitarian mission as regards the victims of violence is to "… protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance. It directs and co-ordinates the international relief activities conducted by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in situations of conflict. It also endeavours to prevent suffering by promoting and strengthening International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and universal humanitarian principles...".


As regards the role and accountability of States, the ICRC promotes the adoption by States of laws, measures and progressive practices designed to ensure respect for the rules and provisions of the various Conventions that constitute IHL, and for the prosecution of violators of IHL. The ICRC also assists States, on request, in the provision of training in IHL to their armed forces. Where they are accessible, it endeavours to provide IHL training also to non-State Actors or armed groups operating in opposition to the State (or sometimes to each other).


In addition the ICRC provides ongoing legal research services in the field of IHL and encourages international debate among all interested parties on the appropriate development of IHL and the practice of humanitarian action, in response to changes in circumstances confronting the international community and, particularly, innocent victims of conflict. The present Forum is an apposite example of this function.


In its important humanitarian role, the ICRC can be assured of our ongoing and strong support. Essentially what it does is to endeavour to protect and realise the basic human rights of victims of conflict.


There will always be conflicts that arise during changing times and changing conditions, but one important lesson is that the human spirit has always triumphed over adversity and oppression.


For a long time, especially during the scramble for Africa by colonial powers, neither human rights nor human beings were respected. Hence, for generations our people never benefited from the important and evolving instruments constituting human rights law and IHL. The form of justice administered in the metropolitan countries often differed markedly from that administered in the colonial possessions. Then during the era of the Cold War, the former colonial possessions were often drawn into the various spheres of influence, to become pawns in the competition between the power blocs. Again, human rights and humanity frequently took a back seat to the exercise of power. Socio-economic development also frequently became skewed and was often totally unsuited to the needs of the peoples of developing countries. The peoples of these countries were seldom consulted by their rulers as to how they viewed their own circumstances and what their basic political and socio-economic needs were in order to live fulfilling lives.


The last twelve or so years have witnessed the end of the Cold War, and yet again changing conditions have confronted all nations. It has become essential for the peoples of the developing world, particularly Africa, to seek to adapt to a rapidly changing, more globalised political, economic and social environment, characterised by great disparities in the relative levels of socio-economic development within and between societies, vast differences in the levels of development of the various national economies, differing levels of access to and use of resources, technology, telecommunications etc. Under such conditions social grievances have all too often given rise to political disagreements and resulted in civil violence, with tragic and predictable consequences for innocent civilians caught up in the violence.


Human beings have always been inspired into acts of solidarity because of their common humanity, but the prevailing environment has often made that very difficult.


Distinguished Guests


The primary role of the humanitarian actors and especially that of the ICRC is the protection of civilians in situations of conflict. At the heart of our volunteered responsibility is an environment characterised by a need to ensure strict adherence to International Humanitarian Law by all forces and all parties to any conflict. However, the contending forces to conflicts have too often egregiously violated International Humanitarian Law, and all too often with impunity.


It is a cardinal principle of IHL that the leaders of military forces and the perpetrators of violence against civilians must be brought to book by the international community for violations of IHL. My Government is firmly of the view that a number of the spectacular failures of IHL and of the international community, over the past number of years, to protect the lives, safety and dignity of large numbers of civilians, have been due to a lack of political will on the part of some States, to take appropriate action in order to hold accountable the violators of IHL. This is an extremely important aspect and bears reiteration: there is no point in our having a remarkable system of instruments of IHL designed to protect the safety and dignity of innocent victims of conflict, if the political will to implement those instruments is not present.


In response to the increasing violence, often intra-state violence directed at vast numbers of civilians; to the changing technology of warfare; and to the greater availability of small arms and other weapons and consequently a greatly magnified capacity for destruction on the part of both State and non-State Actors, States have felt the increasing importance of the need to protect civilians through the further development and better implementation of IHL and the need for appropriate instruments through which to address the changed circumstances. International Humanitarian Law has therefore been augmented by additional instruments in international efforts to keep pace with these rapid changes on the ground. We have thus been parties to a very rapid growth in the number of instruments of IHL over the past few years. I refer, amongst others, to:


- the 1998 Rome Statute creating a permanent International Criminal

Court, which will come into being on 1 July 2002 as 67 States, 7

more than the threshold of 60 States required to ratify the Statute,

have now done so.

the 1997 Ottawa Convention prohibiting the use and production of anti-personnel land mines;
the 1995 Protocol to, and the 1996 amendment of, the Certain Conventional Weapons Convention, limiting the use of certain types of weapons deemed to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects; and
the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.

I am pleased to say that my Government has become a Party to each of these instruments, as we have regarding all of the other earlier, yet no less important, instruments of IHL.


In the past, civilian populations were mainly indirect victims of fighting between hostile armies. Unfortunately, today civilians have been caught or at times used in the furtherance of war aims. This has made the job of humanitarian actors and organisations like the ICRC more important, yet simultaneously more arduous, tedious and at times deadly.


Ladies and Gentlemen


Added to the heavy responsibility of humanitarian organisations is the new emphasis on the concept of "accountability" to those served by them.


There are legitimate questions raised with regard to the role of humanitarian actors in the effective delivery of donated humanitarian assistance as well as regards what their proper role should be in monitoring, reporting on and protecting the human rights of the civilian population.


Indeed there also exists an international consensus that the broad international community cannot stand idly by while thousands of people are massacred or ethnic cleansing takes place. The international community, we would like to believe, will not in future countenance a repeat of a genocide similar to what occurred in Rwanda anywhere in the world, or indeed any form of genocide. In the case of Rwanda the international force sent to maintain the peace was too small, too lightly armed, and had an inadequate mandate to address imminent threats to the peace, resulting in the tragic massacre of over 700 000 innocent civilians. The international community must be held accountable for its failure to respond adequately, promptly and appropriately to numerous reports from Rwanda that large-scale political violence was threatening.


Nor can the international community in future stand idly by, or be apparently paralysed by inaction, while events like those in Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Chechnya or Kosovo take place. In this regard, the United Nations Security Council has to assume its responsibility and accountability for maintaining international peace and security. It is therefore critically important that this organ be democratised and made more accountable and representative of all, while States must exercise their powers more effectively and expeditiously when the peace is threatened.


Humanitarian organisations are faced with the unenviable position of having to decide whether or not to report any violation of human rights of those who fall under their care. Clearly, accountability to those that they serve has opened them to harm by hostile armies. Thus, the decision by the ICRC that its employees would not provide evidence about those indicted for human rights violations creates somewhat of a dilemma for an international campaign to eliminate impunity by warlords. There are legitimate fears within the ICRC that once their employees participate in court proceedings against an offending party, they run the risk that they or their colleagues may become targets of the indicted. Beyond the above argument, the ICRC in particular is guided by its principles of neutrality and impartiality in the discharge of its work.


The warring parties to any conflict must adhere to International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law and anyone guilty of violating these laws must be held accountable. It is the primary responsibility of the international community, and not that of the humanitarian actors, to ensure that human rights and IHL are upheld and respected in any conflict situation.


The coming into operation of the International Criminal Court represents a very positive evolution of International Humanitarian Law and will hopefully and must surely serve as a deterrent to both individuals and Governments, against abominable acts of violation of human rights. It is imperative that the States Parties to the Rome Statute demonstrate the necessary political will to either prosecute or deliver to the Court all those accountable for grave violations of human rights, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Regrettably, some countries are not eager to become Parties to the Rome Statute. As part of international efforts to combat impunity, we would urge all States to consider becoming Parties to the Statute.


While it is expected of humanitarian organisations to continue their work without let or hindrance, it is equally important that humanitarian organisations do not become easy scapegoats or substitutes for political inaction or complacency by the international community. It cannot be expected of humanitarian organisations, for example, to be responsible or to play a role in separating combatants from non-combatant civilian populations in situations of violent conflict, or in refugee camps. This is the role of the Governments of the host States, with appropriate assistance from the broad international community, especially where host Governments do not have adequate military or police capacity to address this important issue.


The role of humanitarian actors with respect to the situation in Goma, in the former Zaire provides us with a lesson on what should not be asked or expected from humanitarian actors. Following the shameful massacre of thousands of the innocent Rwandese civilians by the notorious Interahamwe and FAZ security force, and the facilitation of the escape routes for these genocidaires by some countries, the role of the humanitarian actors was tainted. We are pleased that through the SPHERE Project the humanitarian fraternity is engaged in serious attempts to correct what went wrong during those ignominious days, inter alia through better co-ordination between humanitarian actors.


Another challenge facing humanitarian actors is the growing acceptance by some that it may be correct and indeed legitimate to withhold humanitarian assistance from certain groups if the assistance provided delays the resolution of conflict or perpetuates it. This approach represents a profound departure from the original and basic principles of humanitarian organisations, of neutrality and impartiality and the protection of and assistance to those in distress indiscriminately and irrespective of their situation. Indeed as we indicated earlier humanitarian actors must be careful that they do not end up substituting action politicians should take.


Distinguished Guests


Entering our jargon is the concept of "new humanitarianism" according to which donor governments demand more accountability for resources given to humanitarian organisations. According to this new approach the performance of humanitarian organisations is closely scrutinised and their impact on the ground is also closely assessed.


This positive development and interest is to be welcomed. However, we must also be vigilant that in pursuit of these noble goals, we keep separate what we call conditions required for effective humanitarian action and the creeping view that humanitarian assistance can be used to achieve the broad foreign policy objectives of donor countries.


There is a serious danger, if we do not maintain a clear separation between foreign policy objectives of donor countries, and humanitarian assistance, that the founding principles such as neutrality and impartiality of the humanitarian organisations might be severely endangered. As soon as the clear distinction between politics and humanitarian assistance becomes blurred, we will have entered dangerous ground, which might lead humanitarian actors onto a more complex and complicated terrain than they were established to deal with.


It is important that conflicts be resolved where they have arisen and prevented where they are simmering. However, humanitarian action alone, without comprehensive political and other pressure on the warring factions, cannot work. In conflict situations such as those in Angola and Sierra Leone, while control of humanitarian assistance may have been used as an important instrument of war by anti-government forces, they do also have other resources at their disposal such as diamonds, timber and other natural resources. In such cases, whether humanitarian assistance is made available or not, the conflicts continue unabated.


Given the above synopsis, it is clear that every effort must be mounted to de-link humanitarian assistance from the political objectives of donor countries. Politicisation of humanitarian assistance runs the risk of compromising the principles of neutrality and impartiality and of endeavours to save and protect the lives and dignity of victims of war. Accountability of humanitarian actors to donors is important and a cherished goal but it must not be achieved at the expense of Henri Dunant’s founding principles.


It would be instructive at this stage to remind ourselves of the contribution of Joanna Macrae to the Forum on War and Accountability where she wrote " Many humanitarian organisations are allying themselves with the mono-politics of the West’s political vision. They need to be aware that rather than being simply a substitute for political action, they might be becoming the primary form of political action undertaken by the West". She went on " Ensuring that humanitarian organisations are engaged in humanitarian politics, and are not merely instruments of partisan politics, at a global and domestic level, requires considerable effort on behalf of those Organisations and donor governments". We hope that this Forum will heed this important advice and warning of Ms Macrae.


Distinguished Guests


We share the view of humanitarian organisations that the concept of accountability should also be extended to include the population and communities who are "beneficiaries" of humanitarian action. These communities must indeed be consulted on their needs and aspirations, to ensure that the treatment they receive is provided in line with what they might reasonably expect from the international community as regards physical protection and asylum, basic standards in the provision of care for their economic and social needs, their tenure in the country or area to which they might have fled to escape violence, their rights in their place of asylum or indeed in their own home areas while conflict is taking place, or once they return,etc.


To the three questions posed to the panel of persons who have experienced the reality of conflict at first hand, listed in the background paper: "Accountability and War", my Government would say that each should be answered with a resounding "Yes". They are:

Should population groups directly affected by armed conflict be involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of humanitarian operations?


Should efforts be made to organise some form of collective representation on the part of affected population groups, thus enabling them to engage in dialogue with humanitarian organisations? And


Should the involvement of affected populations become an obligation for any credible humanitarian organisation?


My Government firmly believes and practices the general principle that affected populations and all other stakeholders should always be consulted as far as is reasonably possible, when important decisions are being taken that will affect them directly. This is a principle that has been scrupulously applied in efforts to implement socio-economic development projects, for example, as well as in addressing the issues before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is to deliver its report and recommendations in the very near future.


In addressing accountability to the victims of conflict we need only remind ourselves of the shocking television scenes of the Israeli Government’s sealing-off of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the treatment of Palestinian civilians in a manner that amounts to collective punishment of a civilian population. The imposition of a blockade against the civilian population whose abode is in these areas, refusing access to humanitarian workers to attend to the injured and to provide for basic humanitarian assistance, the demolition of houses in a refugee camp by bulldozers, the fact that the United Nations observer group was denied access to the Jenin refugee camp, all serve as stark reminders that even today, in the full glare of international media attention, some governments and political leaders seem ready to violate the most basic of all principles of IHL and ignore their accountability to innocent civilian victims of conflict. The plight of the Palestinian people, who have been refugees in their own country for over 50 years, is one of the situations which the world views and thinks that it cannot get any worse. And yet we see it getting worse.


Yet when a power acts with seeming impunity and with collective punishment against a whole civilian population, life for the members of that population becomes increasingly desperate and offers nothing through adherence to the status quo. Under such circumstances violent responses can be expected to emerge as one of the only ways they see to bring an end to their suffering. Such actions strengthen the hand of some extremists and disempower those willing to negotiate in good faith.


It would appear that the civilised world is helpless in being able to prevent this harsh and retributive action against the Palestinians. The actions of the Israeli Government constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, to which Israel is a High Contracting Party. The position of the Israeli Government has challenged the work of humanitarian organisations and the international community, and it is up to all of us to hold the Israeli Government and its leaders accountable for its actions.


In this situation the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and their colleagues in the Red Cross are the unsung heroes and we salute their brave, selfless and unstinting efforts, in the face of great difficulties, to bring relief to the suffering civilian population. Their efforts are deserving of our full and continuing support, both political and humanitarian. Without them there would have been no relief. Likewise, we salute the sterling efforts of those brave and selfless civilian humanitarian workers who have risked their lives and their safety in many difficult situations around the world and throughout the ages, to bring relief to suffering civilians, and especially those who have paid the ultimate price. Their efforts on behalf of the civilian populations of Angola, the DRC, Sierra Leone and East Timor, to name but a few, are deserving of our undying recognition and our continuing support in the name of our common humanity.


Distinguished Guests,


Humanitarian organisations and States should also be accountable in ensuring that all victims of conflict are treated in a manner that is equitable and fair. It is clearly unacceptable and a double standard that refugees from conflict in Kosovo, for example, were offered cappuccino as part of their diet, while refugees from conflict in the Horn of Africa were being catered for at a minimum cost per day that provided for merely a fraction of their daily minimum dietary requirements. These acts of omission or commission on the part of humanitarian organisations and the international community towards African refugees should not be allowed to continue. Basic norms and standards in the provision of adequate care to victims of conflict must be established and implemented impartially and without favouritism, and in close consultation with the affected populations.


Finally we would like to offer the following proposals as a way forward in dealing with the needs of the victims of conflict and the new challenges that we face as a broad international community in further developing IHL and humanitarian practice:


There is an essential need for vigilance. As an accountable international community we need to establish better systems of early warning, based on more attention being paid to claims by communities that they are being discriminated against, that their civil, political, economic, social or cultural rights are being violated. The more vigilance there is in the world, the easier will be the task of humanitarian workers and the fewer the number of cases of violators who will need to be brought to account.
We need to speedily establish mechanisms to deal with conflict prevention or conflict resolution in order to remove causes of conflict. Each State must play its role as a responsible and accountable member of a broad humanitarian community.
There has to be more participation in international efforts to lay a foundation for peace and monitor the maintenance of peace, as, for example, with my own Government’s ongoing participation in MONUC in the DRC and the South African force in Burundi.
There is a definite need for in-depth consultation with the victimised communities before major decisions are taken about programmes to address their plight.
There has also to be more dissemination by States, their armed forces and also by Non-State Actors of the rules of International Humanitarian Law. This will require greater efforts from international organisations such as the ICRC, but more importantly, there has to be a political will by parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian actors into areas under their control and permit them to conduct training workshops on IHL.
A related problem is that of increasing attacks against humanitarian workers, including UN personnel, despite the fact that previously there was broad recognition of their neutrality. This has resulted in the UN and some humanitarian organisations considering withdrawing their personnel, often with disastrous consequences for the civilian populations. It is the duty of responsible and accountable Governments and civil society to continue to support the humanitarian organisations in the implementation of their relief programmes and through clearly articulated political support.
The actions of all parties are seen on television on a regular basis. Again, we come back to an ongoing need for clearly articulated and visible political will by all Governments of the broad international community to hold all violators of IHL accountable for their deeds in terms of existing instruments of IHL and to devise new and creative ways to ensure that their behaviour does not continue with impunity. This is necessary in order not to set a bad example for other potential violators of IHL in other areas of the globe. The co-operation of all Governments in order to ensure the effective functioning of the International Criminal Court will be of cardinal importance in this regard.
Basic training in IHL should be extended to schools, and in this respect we can inform that a pilot project between the ICRC and our Department of Education has begun in our schools for this purpose.
The ICRC has conducted studies in some countries around the world that have recently experienced conflict. Those who were conducting the study spoke extensively to the survivors of conflict. It is important that these studies be extended to many countries in order to contribute to a broader understanding by the international community of the views, concerns, hopes and aspirations of victims and their families, and their articulated needs for relief, restitution, reparations etc.
States have to continue to make generous contributions to the relief programmes of humanitarian organisations. But we should not set impossible conditions for such donations, nor should they be used for anything other than alleviating the suffering of victims. For example, the "forgotten victims" of the decades-long internal conflict, namely the 4 million IDPs in Angola, deserve the generous and ongoing assistance of the international community, despite the fact that their plight no longer makes headline news and that a peace agreement has been signed. This applies also to the extension of ongoing assistance for the reconstruction of countries emerging from conflicts, and for efforts aimed at achieving reconciliation and rebuilding of the institutions such as the judiciary.
We must redouble our efforts and especially our political will to make and hold all parties to conflict accountable. The political will of Governments to implement the IHL instruments that already exist for this express purpose will hopefully serve as a deterrent to future possible grave violations of IHL. In this context it is interesting to note that internationally recognised National Liberation Movements, including the African National Congress before it became the ruling party in South Africa, signed relevant international instruments of IHL, including the 1977 Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 relating to the protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflict. The Government of the Republic of South Africa became a Party to this Protocol on 21 November 1995, only after the first democratic elections of 1994. This is indicative of the high priority accorded to the implementation of and respect for the rules of IHL in the tradition of the new democratic South African Government. Even during the war for national liberation against powerful opposing forces, it is remarkable that the victims of oppression voluntarily complied with humanitarian standards and law.

In conclusion, the clearest way we in Africa are striving to deal with the conflict is through the adoption and implementation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the launch of the African Union. The AU with its programme NEPAD seeks to address the root causes of underdevelopment and the amelioration of conflicts on the continent.


While extreme poverty exists there can never be security for either the poor or those in rich countries. Significantly, poverty can only be eradicated through the co-operation of all. Central to the objectives of NEPAD is the eradication of poverty as well as the promotion of respect for human rights, accountability of governments, democracy and good governance in our continent, which coincidentally, are number one priorities of the African Union.


As politicians we need to work assiduously to create a better world for posterity. We need to concentrate more on negotiation than confrontation. These will, hopefully, minimise the load for important humanitarian organisations like the ICRC. We commend the above recommendations for your considered inputs and deliberations.


I thank you


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