Transcript Copy: Notes following Briefing to Media on UN Security Council issues by Mr Xolisa Mabhongo, Chief Director: United Nations, Union Buildings, Pretoria, Thursday 20 November 2008


South Africa condemns the acts of piracy occurring off the coast Somalia. We think that these acts not only endanger international trade but also contribute to the deterioration of the security situation in that part of the world.

Furthermore it is South Africa’s view that we have to address the root causes of the problem.  Therefore it is important to deal with the political dimension of the situation in Somalia.  All parties need to show commitment to the agreed frameworks for the resolution of the problem – for example the Djibouti Agreement.  Our considered view is that if we do not deal and address the political track we might only be dealing with the symptoms of the problem.  Piracy and lawlessness are related to the political situation in Somalia.

The UNSC is currently considering the recent report of the UNSG on Somalia which provides details on the contingency planning for the possible deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation as well as an update on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1816(2008) on Piracy.

As you know South Africa in the UN Security Council has consistently stressed the need for the international community through the UN to intervene more effectively to address the situation in Somalia.  The AU Mission, AMISOM, was initially foreseen as a short term intervention that would be replaced by a UN peacekeeping operation.  We have stressed this point in all our interventions.

Therefore we are encouraged that the report of the UN Secretary-General that is currently under discussion in the UNSC presents a framework for a possible and eventual deployment of a UN operation.  The key proposal is for an International Stabilisation Force whose core mandate would be to provide a first phase support to the implementation of the Djibouti agreement, helping parties to secure a stable environment and creating conditions for deployment of a multinational peacekeeping operation.


The international community is concerned about the overall situation in the DRC. We have seen in the past few days attempts to address the situation on all fronts – with the political track currently led by the Former Nigerian President Obasanjo who has visited the DRC and some neighbouring countries. Following his interventions various announcements were made, for example an agreement that the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) would renew the ceasefire, pull back and allow MONUC  to create a “zone of separation”.  Meetings were also held between delegations of Rwanda and DRC.

The peacekeeping track of course focuses on MONUC, the UN peacekeeping Mission in that country. The UN has indicated that under the current circumstances MONUC faces an overstretch. It lacks some key capabilities that are required to deal with the current situation.  Therefore there are attempts to reconfigure MONUC.

Additionally the UN Security Council will adopt, hopefully today, a resolution that would authorise the deployment of an additional 3000 troops to MONUC (2785 military personnel and 300 police). South Africa therefore thinks that this will be an important intervention by the Council if this resolution is passed.

Middle East:

The Security Council is due to report on its activities on the Middle East question to the General Assembly on the occasion of International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on 24 November. On 25 November the Security Council will hold its monthly meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.
South Africa and the overwhelming majority of UN Member States are determined to see the Security Council break its long silence on the question of Palestine and assume its responsibilities under the UN Charter with respect to the maintenance of peace and security in the Middle East region.

The Palestinian Observer Mission has written to the President of the Security Council drawing attention to the recent escalation of Israeli military attacks on Gaza in violation of the Egyptian brokered ceasefire. The letter points out that through these actions, Israel has “directed harm to the entire population in the Gaza Strip as it has completely closed all Gaza crossings, even to essential international humanitarian aid, severely disrupting food and fuel supply. This has even impacted United Nations operations on the ground, including that of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which is providing food rations to over three-quarters of a million Palestinians left needy and hungry by this inhumane Israeli siege”.


On 14 November the Security Council heard briefings from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Mr Staffan de Mistura, on the activities of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), as well as the representative of the United States, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, on the activities of the multinational force in Iraq (MNF-I).
In its statement, South Africa noted positive developments in Iraq, such as the enhanced cooperation amongst political groups in Iraq and between Iraq and neighbouring countries, and also drew attention to fundamental remaining challenges including the humanitarian plight of refugees and the serious human rights situation, particularly the violations of human rights of civilians and detainees. South Africa stressed that the multinational force operates in Iraq under a mandate of the United Nations. Consequently, its actions have a direct bearing on the credibility and reputation of the United Nations and its ability to act as an honest broker in facilitating national reconciliation and an all-inclusive political process in Iraq and constructive dialogue with Iraq's neighbours. The recent attacks on Syria and elsewhere where the national borders of sovereign states were violated and innocent civilians were killed in contravention of international law are therefore an issue of concern. Finally, attention was drawn to the efforts of prominent South Africans who have been sharing their experiences in conflict resolution and national reconciliation with their Iraqi counterparts through the Helsinki II process.

UNSC: Election on non-permanent members

The election of five Member States to the United Nations Security Council in the non-permanent category for the 2009/2010 period recently took place in the General Assembly. Uganda, Austria, Turkey, Japan and Mexico were elected to serve a two year term in the Security Council.

Questions and Answers

Question: What does South Africa believe should be done practically now to stop these attacks on oil tankers and the likes? What does South Africa believe should be done in the short term?
Answer: There are a number of countries that are currently dealing with the issue of piracy – there are operations by NATO, and recently the EU as a block has entered into an agreement with the Somali government. There are EU member states that are already there with their troops and others like India, Malaysia as you know. So there is work that is being done to deal with the issue of piracy in the short term.
Let me also highlight that there are two parts of the problem off the coast of Somalia. In the North – that is around the Gulf of Aden. What you have is actually the piracy problem where you have ships that are being hijacked and ransoms being demanded. The second aspect of this is the humanitarian dimension. Here there are ships that are moving from Mombasa to Mogadishu to try to deliver humanitarian supplies. These are UN humanitarian ships. So there have been requests that whilst a number of countries are dealing with the problem of piracy in the Gulf of Aden that there is also need for UN humanitarian ships to also be supported and protected as they try to deliver these much-needed supplies.

I think with all those interventions the international community is indeed showing great concern.

I must also mention that the UN Security Council has actually passed two resolutions on piracy which South Africa supported. Those resolutions are the ones that have created an enabling framework for all these interventions that are taking place there now – they basically permitted countries in agreement with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia to engage and try to deal with the piracy.

Question: Does South Africa believe that 3 000 troops for the DRC is enough at this stage?
Answer: The number of 3 000 troops was basically a request by the UN, the Department of Peace Keeping Operations based on their analysis of the situation and their understanding of what is happening on the ground.

We are also saying that even in the DRC we need to focus also on the political track because you could add more, 3 000 or 10 000 troops, but without movement on the political track then the troops are unlikely to make a major long term impact, and in fact they could be stationed there for many years if we do not deal with the political track. So at the moment we think that the 3 000  will indeed help to deal with the situation as it obtains today.
Question: There has been some speculation that South Africa might contribute some force to the Somali anti-piracy control – a corvette or something. I do not think that that has ever been fully denied and certainly not been confirmed. Can you give an indication of what is likely to happen there? Is there a policy decision that is being made or is it still being considered?

Whether South Africa will be involved or not, the decision has not been taken, but there are consultations within government between the Departments of Foreign Affairs primarily and Defence and other departments as well such as the Department of Transport, are part of this consultation. So there is no decision that has been taken at the moment. But as I have indicated, the resolutions of the Security Council, which we supported, are basically saying the countries that are in a position to do so should make a contribution.

But as I indicated there are two parts to this. As part of the consultation South Africa will have to decide for example, if our government decides to deploy there, we will have to decide whether to deploy in the North which is an area where there is quiet a number of countries involved but also where the acts of piracy are also rife; or whether we wanted to assist purely the humanitarian missions of the UN.

So that is what is currently being considered currently in government but there is no decision that has been taken as yet.

Question: After Cabinet met yesterday there was a briefing by Themba Maseko where he talked about a White Paper on South Africa’s involvement in peace keeping missions, which I think it was interpreted by some as being pulling back to some degree on involvement in peace keeping missions. Can you explain that please?

Answer: With regard to the White Paper on peace keeping operations, this is in a way a review because we already have a policy peace keeping operations. The idea is not to pull back from peace keeping missions. South Africa is currently amongst the top troop contributing countries to UN peace keeping operations. So it is a major commitment that we have made. It is an essential part of our foreign policy and our involvement in Africa as we try to solve conflicts.

So there is no question that South Africa will ever pull back from that but what the White Paper does is to say “what lessons have we learnt in the past 15 years with peace keeping missions and therefore how can we improve”. So it is a review and not a question of South Africa moving backwards from peace keeping.

Question: Could you also tell us a little bit about the Arms Trade Treaty which is apparently being discussed in the Security Council and there seems to be some controversy about that with the US opposing. What is South Africa’s position on that?

Answer: There is a discussion that has been going on for the past two years or so on the Arms Trade Treaty. It was an initiative that I think was started by the UK, supported by quiet a number of NGOs.

As you know in South Africa we have a process through the National Conventional Arms Control Committee and set criteria and principles on how we sell arms; which countries we sell to; what criteria we consider when we take those decisions. This is basically an attempt to do something similar at a global level. So some countries globally have got systems similar to South Africa and what has been lacking is a similar approach or principles that have been agreed to by the whole world.

It is an ongoing discussion, it is not yet complete. South Africa voted in favour of the resolution in the UN General Assembly; only two countries voted against the resolution – I believe it was the US and Zimbabwe; and about 18 countries that abstained.

So as you can see the majority of the members of the UN feel that this is important and South Africa is amongst those countries that feel that this is an effort worth pursuing so that we can be able to have global standard to regulate the sale of arms in the same way that we have the system domestically.

Question: In the light of what South Africa has done in assisting the DRC through its process of reaching stability. What role do you see South Africa playing in terms of assisting the current mediator in making it possible that the rivals can meet because the last time I checked Kabila did not want to meet Nkunda?

Answer: As you know South Africa is involved in the DRC in quiet a number of different capacities. For example we are involved through SADC; we have a Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region who is also dealing with the issue of the DRC. I would assume that if there was an approach made to South Africa to assist in bringing the two parties together in a sort of practical way, depending on whatever modalities have been agreed, obviously I believe this is something we would support. I am not aware whether such approach has been made at the moment. But because we have been involved in the DRC and have invested so much, it is natural that we would be willing to contribute to any process that would lead to peace and stability in that country.

Question: Do you know what the grounds were for the US and Zimbabwe to object to the arms trade treaty?

Answer: Zimbabwe did not explain their position but the US, when they explained their position; they indicated that they were not sure that this would necessarily be a higher standard. When you are negotiating treaties like this it is the same concern that even a country like South Africa could make; whether when you negotiate such a regime at a global level you will then end up with a standard that is higher than what you already have domestically or whether you will actually end up with something lower; because of course it is negotiations between about 192 countries.

So the US has expressed that concern, at least publicly. They say they are not sure that this standard will be higher than what they already have domestically.

But the majority of countries do not necessarily see it that way. They say any country can make that argument but I think the approach that we are taking is that firstly we will be aiming for a higher standard at a global level but even if the standard was not higher that what we already have domestically; the fact that we have something that is globally agreed to is an important development. It is worth pursuing. It might even help those countries that at the moment do not have domestic standards for the sale of arms. So if you have a global standard it has a wider reach. The question of whether it compares well or badly with what you already have domestically is something each country will have to consider how to deal with.

What the resolution does is that it is actually calling for a negotiations process so the treaty is not even in existence yet. What is happening is that there was a proposal that was started by the UK to say that the international community, through the UN, must negotiate an arms trade treaty. So there were various discussions in the past year on this issue. The UN General Assembly was now taking a step further to say: “we have listened to all the conversations that have been taking place between member states in the past year; now we want to take it a step further; we are proposing an open-ended working group of the General Assembly to take the process forward that will lead to a start of negotiations on the treaty”. So that is what the resolution was saying and this is what the US has voted against. Because the open-ended working group of the General Assembly was supported by the majority of countries, it will be formed and will mean that the US – because it is an open-ended, it is open to all the members of the UN – even though they have voted against this resolution creating the process, we would think that they will actually come and participate in the negotiations of the treaty. So we think that they will be part of the negotiations.

As to when the treaty will be finalised, I wouldn’t even guess because for processes like that at the UN sometimes it can take two years, sometimes it can take ten years depending on the complexities of the discussions.

Question: The situation in Western Sahara, do you think there is seriousness from the UN to have the issue resolved?

Answer: There is seriousness at the level of the UN, as you know the UN Secretary General has always had an envoy dealing with the issue of Western Sahara. There have been about five rounds of negotiations between the parties. In a way it has coincided with our membership of the UN Security Council because the resolution that was passed in 2007 essentially created a negotiations process between the two parties and it set out the modalities and the aim of those negotiations. It was very clear that the aim is to look into the question of the eventual self determination of the people of Western Sahara. Since then there has been five rounds of negotiations between the two parties.

As you can imagine, with negotiations on such a complex issue, after five rounds of negotiations of it does not necessarily mean you have taken major steps forward but the fact that the parties are talking directly for the first time after so many years already builds confidence and I think the assessment is that these five rounds of negotiations have not been a waste of time, they have helped the parties to clarify their positions.

At the moment the special envoy who was presiding over these negotiations, as you might be aware, has resigned. He was a national of the Netherlands. There is currently a process in the UN by which the Secretary General is in a process of appointing a new envoy who would then continue with the facilitation of the negotiations.

I think the UN is serious and the Security Council, whenever it needs to discuss this issue there is always an overwhelming appeal to the parties involved to actually show more commitment so that we can be able to resolve one of the long standing issues; and for South Africa obviously a question of decolonisation in the African continent.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

20 November 2008

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