Notes following Briefing to Media by Deputy Director-General Ambassador George Nene Media Centre, Union Buildings, Pretoria Thursday 29 May 2008
Visit by the UN Security Council’s Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate
You would recall that on 19 March 2008 Cabinet announced that a delegation of anti-terrorism experts headed by the Executive Director of the United Nations Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate, Ambassador Mike Smith, would be visiting South Africa from 2 to 9 June 2008 to assess South Africa’s legislation, enforcement capacity and national systems to implement anti-terror obligations in terms of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions and international conventions.
This visit takes place next week and the South African government looks forward to meeting with the delegation.
The delegation derives its mandate to carry out visits to countries from the Security Council and it has already visited a large number of countries within this framework. These visits are part of the normal work programme of CTED and are regarded as beneficial by most countries as they provide an opportunity to assess national laws and the effectiveness of the implementation machinery.
South Africa is fully up to date with its reporting requirements to the Security Council on anti-terrorism and it has also ratified all thirteen of the universal conventions on terrorism.
South Africa adheres to a multilateral approach to addressing the issue of terrorism and, in this context, is committed to cooperating with the United Nations delegation.
Let me begin by saying that the Department of Defence is the Department with the technical expertise on the matter. As diplomats, officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs add the diplomatic nuances and assist with negotiations.
On Wednesday 28 May 2008 the Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions agreed to the draft Convention to ban cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. This was a culmination of a process that was started in Norway by 46 countries, including South Africa, where they adopted the Oslo Declaration. The Oslo Declaration committed its signatories to work towards the conclusion of a legally binding instrument to ban cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. It is important to note that this process was never about a total ban of all cluster munitions, but about banning those cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. When the process started, however, some countries expressed a wish to see a total ban. Most of the discussions in the past 15 months have therefore been characterised also with this divide between those who wanted a total ban and those who wanted to stick to what was agreed in the Oslo Declaration - banning only those that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.
The text agreed in Dublin is a very good compromise between the 109 States that took part in the meeting. It meets the humanitarian objectives of the process by setting a high bar for cluster munitions that are exempted. In future any cluster munitions would have to have the following characteristics: weigh more than 4 kg, have self destruct and self deactivation mechanisms, not carry more than ten sub-munitions, and it must be point targeted. The practical effect of this is that once the treaty comes into force most of the existing cluster munitions will immediately be banned. Only those that meet the above criteria will be permitted.
As indicated, South Africa has been part of the process from the beginning. Our position has consistently been in line with the Oslo Declaration. We are comfortable with the outcome of the Dublin meeting. In the Diplomatic Conference our Head of Delegation played a leadership role as a member of the bureau and as a facilitator of negotiations in the important section of the document dealing with compliance. Surely this is not a role that could have been given to a country that was not committed in the process. It is therefore a pity that some sought to distort the South African position.
Following the Dublin meeting there will be a signing ceremony for the new treaty in Oslo in December. After that the treaty will require 30 ratifications in order to enter into force.
Questions and Answers
Question Ambassador, does South Africa have any cluster munitions that would be unacceptable in terms of this new Treaty?
Answer As I have already said, the Department of Defence is the Department that has the technical knowledge regarding this matter. I am not aware whether we have cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians but if we do, like we did when the resting Commissioner of Police was chairing the Oslo Process on Landmines, when the Oslo Process led to a Convention, South Africa complied fully with the provisions of that so I would suspect that if we do have such cluster munitions, South Africa will co-operate and adhere fully to what we have signed to do.
Question Ambassador, you spoke of countries supporting the Oslo Declaration and those wanting a total ban on cluster munitions. What motivated South Africa’s decision to support the Oslo Declaration and not call for an outright ban on cluster munitions?
Answer The reports that I received, according to the technical experts, indicated that South Africa’s position was: “Why should something that does not meet the objectives of the conference be banned?”
The Conference aimed to ensure that during times of war, you do not have ammunitions that causes unnecessary harm to civilians. The Oslo Declaration was adopted by those 46 initial countries and I am not in a position to respond to why we did not decide to support a total ban on cluster munitions and why we supported to formulation – “unacceptable harm to civilians.” That formulation was a compromised reached in Oslo.
We stuck to this position. I think that the agreement reached at the Dublin Conference – one in which 109 countries participated – to me was a good Convention.
I can speculate by saying that when Lebanon was bombed, a lot of cluster munitions that to the United Nations seemed injurious to civilians was deposited on Lebanon hence a huge humanitarian effort was required to deactivate and make those munitions still present harmless to civilians when they reoccupied the space they had to vacate during the bombing.
Question Ambassador, will our agreement and ratification of the Convention preclude our interacting with countries who are not party to this convention in instances like training exercises, for instance?
Answer I am not sure – if we are going to have a joint exercise the exercise includes those types of weapons we have agreed to not use, then it is for the politicians to decide whether we have military relations with those countries that did not sign this Convention. That is a political decision.
Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
29 May 2008