Opening Statement by Deputy Minister Ebrahim I Ebrahim at the Tenth Annual Regional Seminar on the Implementation of International Humanitarian Law, 4 May 2010, OR Tambo Building, Pretoria

Honourable members of official delegations from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other participating countries;
Ms Catherine Gendre, Head of Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross Regional IICRC) Delegation for Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands;
Other members of the ICRC staff present, from this region and Headquarters;
Excellencies, Colleagues, distinguished guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to open this 10th Annual Regional Seminar on International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) co-host with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). I extend a very warm welcome to you all on behalf of the Government and people of South Africa and the ICRC. The fact that this is the first international Seminar of this kind to be hosted at our new Headquarters makes the welcoming extra special. I also hope to see all of you again here in South Africa in little more than a month, with the opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the first African World Cup.

Allow me also at the outset to thank Ms Catherine Gendre for the excellent work she has done while heading the Pretoria delegation of the ICRC and for arranging the past four annual seminars. Her, and her team’s efforts to promote IHL in Southern Africa, and beyond, is much appreciated. As the ICRC is the custodian of IHL, it is natural that we co-host this Seminar with them. However, we have learned with sadness that Ms Gendre is leaving us later this year to take-up another exciting post in Addis Ababa, but we are looking forward to work with Mr Gherardo Pontrandolfi, who we are certain will be an able replacement for Ms Gendre.

Ladies and gentlemen,  

As you would know the objective of the Seminar is to, amongst other, review and discuss the present state of implementation of IHL instruments in our respective countries and to examine the requirements and challenges of some of these IHL instruments. This year the focus is aimed at discussing the Cluster Munitions Convention and the recently adopted African Union (AU) Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), both issues that are critical in contributing to a better and safer world.

DIRCO is co-hosting this Seminar because its theme resonates with our country’s foreign policy, which include the promotion of development and the contribution to the resolution of conflict on the African continent and the building of an environment in which socio-economic development can take place. It is our view that sustainable socio-economic development cannot take place without peace and stability.  Similarly, socio-economic development is critical for addressing the root causes of conflict and instability. Therefore, in pursuing our vision of a better world, we are motivated by the consideration that justice and respect for international law should guide relations between nations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

International humanitarian law is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It also seeks to prohibit all means and methods of warfare which, inter alia, fail to discriminate between those taking part in the fighting and those who are not, with the emphasis on protecting the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian property. Recognising the challenges that Africa face particularly with regard to conflicts, the relevance of the promotion of IHL remains important. It is within this context that the reflection on the Cluster Munitions Convention is relevant during this Seminar, specifically as we are now aware that the Convention will enter into force on 1 August 2010.

As a country that used to produce and stockpile cluster munitions that have an area wide-effect, we have come to the belief that these weapons have become obsolete as means of modern warfare. In a Continent marred by recent conflicts as well as continued efforts to build post-conflict peace and reconciliation, one cannot erase the fact that cluster munitions can cause devastating consequences years and even decades after the cessation of active hostilities and the conclusion of peace agreements. It is with this recognition that our former Minister of Defence, Mr Charles Nqakula, already announced during 2004 that South Africa will destroy its relatively small stockpile of outdated cluster munitions. 

Importantly, the Convention on Cluster Munitions contains pioneering provisions on victim assistance, a crucial humanitarian assistance provision that sets a new standard on the responsibilities of States in dealing with cluster munitions victims and their dependants. Victim assistance is not restricted to immediate medical care, but to rehabilitation; the prospect of life-long prosthetic assistance; vocational training and socio-economic reintegration, as victims in many cases are no longer able to be economically active in their previous occupation. In this instance, South Africa continues to believe and advocate that international co-operation and assistance remains paramount to the full implementation of all aspects of the Convention. 

Our collective goal should be a Continent free of cluster munitions that are prohibited under the relevant Convention.  It is perhaps noteworthy to mention that South Africa has been supporting some countries in the African Continent such as Mozambique, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan and Eritrea with the clearance of landmines in their territories. Furthermore, South Africa has also initiated the process of ratifying the Convention as a further commitment to promote IHL on the Continent.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

African leaders also recognised that IDPs could be a possible contributing factor to instability on the continent. Faced with the reality that the African continent has one of the largest number of IDPs, estimated at about 11.8 million from 21 countries, Heads of State and Government of Member States of the AU met during November 2009 to adopt the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (the Kampala Convention), in an effort to address these challenges, the first continent to have done so.  Through the adoption of this Convention Africa signaled its intention to prevent and put to an end the phenomenon of internal displacement by eradicating the root causes, including persistent and recurring conflicts, as well as addressing displacement caused by natural disasters, which have a severe impact on peace, stability and development. The Convention also particularly addresses the obligations of states to prevent displacement as a method of warfare, a critical element within the realm of IHL.

Addressing the root causes of internal displacement and hence supporting IDPs would enable us to harness Africa’s potent human resources towards the goal of development and thus make major strides towards ending Africa’s historical marginalisation. We should also ensure the creation of conditions for the return of displaced persons to their home countries, whilst recognising their fundamental right to resettlement. This could ultimately contribute to the stability and the development of a continent that deserves to take its place within the global order.

This convention also recognizes that in order to contribute to a stable Africa, international organisations in particular the ICRC, as well the AU and the United Nations (UN) must play an important role in addressing the challenges of IDPs.   Partnerships based on mutual respect create favourable conditions for finding durable solutions to the problem of internal displacements. Accordingly, we appreciate the important contribution the ICRC has made to the AU in terms of capacity building and other projects, within the realm of IDPs, as well as to assist in the finalisation of the AU IDP Convention.

I am happy to say that many of the articles contained within the Convention, which inter alia refer to freedom of movement, political choice, human dignity, health care and security of persons, are already protected in the South African Constitution (Act 35 of 1997). It is our view that the AU IDP Convention fills a void in humanitarian law, recognising that IDPs have specific vulnerabilities and must be supported. It is therefore our hope that the AU Convention is going to be of value to other regions as well and contribute globally to the strengthening of IHL.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am convinced that this Seminar will contribute to Africa’s on-going efforts to develop a culture of respect for non-combatants and for prisoners of, and persons affected by war. Discussions and debate need to be followed by proper implementation of IHL and its instruments. Following from the implementation of IHL, we should also continue to publicly deplore any violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, and also bring to justice the perpetrators thereof.

I am also convinced that effective implementation of IHL enhances a rules-based international system, which directly ensures the protection of the peoples of the world against breaches of IHL and impunity, and ultimately contributes to the creation of a better world for all.

In view of this argument, I am sure you will agree that the region should also equally prioritise the implementation of IHL and its relevant instruments. We therefore, need to ensure that all relevant role-players are properly sensitised to and advised on the importance of IHL, not only during times of conflict, but especially in underlining and supporting the very essence of our socio-economic upliftment by creating a conducive environment for lasting peace, security and stability.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to conclude by wishing you a fruitful and constructive conference and trust that it would lead to increased future co-operation on various issues relating to International Humanitarian Law.

Thank you.

Issued by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation
Private Bag X152
Pretoria, 0001

04 May 2010


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