Statement by the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ebrahim Ebrahim, on the UN Security Council Vote on the extension of the mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), Pretoria, 20 July 2012

South Africa deplores the violence and the tremendous loss of life in Syria, which is spiraling out of control.  I reiterate that our highest priority is to stop the killing. We feel that the only way to achieve this is through the Annan plan for a political transition.

The bomb in Damascus earlier this week, which resulted in the death of senior government officials including the Defence Minister, Daoud Rajha, coupled with the many horrific massacres that have taken place over the past few weeks, clearly shows that there is more than one side to the conflict. It is also obvious that all sides are heavily armed.

We have noted the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s classification of the escalating situation in Syria as meeting the conditions of an internal armed conflict.   The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also stated that: “there are indications that the situation in Syria – at least in certain areas – may amount to a non-international armed conflict thus entailing obligations on both sides under international law”. 

This confirms that the situation has reached a threshold of a civil war in which all parties have responsibilities and obligations under international humanitarian law.

It is therefore essential that the Security Council address this dire situation in line with the United Nations Charter. The Charter determines that the Council should make recommendations for conflict resolution and take account of failures of implementation with its decisions: “without prejudice to the rights, claims and positions of the parties concerned”.  Chapter VII of the UN Charter therefore mandates the Security Council to address the conduct of all parties to a conflict equally.

During the past week, Kofi Annan - in response to the escalating violence and lack of movement in the peace process – requested the Council to send a strong message to ALL parties that there would be consequences for their non-compliance with the Annan plan.  

It has been incorrectly reported that South Africa was opposed to sanctions on the Syrian government. I wish to emphasise that South Africa fully supports the request of the Joint Special Envoy for stern action. Our problem with the resolution voted on yesterday was not the issue of sanctions on the government per se, but the fact that the text did not provide for measures against the opposition for non-compliance with the Annan plan.

It was on this basis that South Africa made recommendations to balance the text.  These proposals were rejected by the drafters of the resolution, leaving South Africa no option but to abstain in the vote.

This was not merely an issue of language. South Africa takes it responsibility as a member of the Security Council extremely seriously, because its decisions impact the lives of ordinary people. Our view is that a one-sided resolution would only make the situation on the ground worse, pushing the government to further pursue the military option and emboldening the opposition to continue to reject talks. In a complex, divided society such as Syria, there can be no military solution. We saw this clearly in Iraq. Ultimately, the parties in Syria will have to negotiate a settlement. The question is whether they do so now or after a bloody and protracted civil war. We are therefore deeply disappointed that the Council was not able to apply pressure to both sides to bring an end to the violence.

The outcome of the vote reflects the deep divisions and narrow interests of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council.  These divisions and the inability of the Security Council to address the realities of the appalling situation on the ground in a balanced and mature manner, is a failure by the Security Council to execute its primary mandate, namely the maintenance of international peace and security.

South Africa continues to call for a Syrian-led negotiated all-inclusive dialogue to establish a political transition that will reflect the will of the Syrian people.  This is the ultimate aim of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Mr Kofi Annan, and the only hope for the Syrian people. 

While we are concerned about the safety of Observers, South Africa continues to believe that UNSMIS plays a critical role in supporting the efforts of Mr Annan, including through verification and facilitating local-level cease-fires.  The withdrawal of UNSMIS will only result in the conflict on the ground spiraling into an all out war, which will have a severe impact on the stability of the entire region.  South Africa is deeply concerned about such a prospect.

Currently there are two competing resolutions before the Security Council to extend the mandate of UNSMIS, which South Africa supports.  We hope the Security Council will be able to rise above its deep divisions and adopt the extension unanimously.

Issued by: The Department of International Relations and Cooperation

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