Opening Statement by the Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim at the Twelfth Annual Regional Seminar on the Implementation of International Humanitarian Law, 14 August 2012, OR Tambo Building, Pretoria

Your Excellency, Mr Jurg Eglin, Head of Regional Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent for Southern Africa;
Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners present here today;
Government representatives and experts from the SADC and East African Community; and a special recognition to the esteemed representatives of the Government of South Sudan who are participating for the first time in this seminar;
Other members of the ICRC staff present, from this region and Headquarters;
Colleagues, distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my honour and privilege to welcome you on behalf of the Government of South Africa to the 12th Annual Regional Seminar on the implementation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). May I also take this opportunity to extend an official welcome Mr Jürg Eglin, the new ICRC Head of Delegation for Southern Africa. Mr Eglin, South Africa recognises and is deeply grateful for the leading role played by the ICRC in promoting and advancing universal humanitarian principles and in responding to pressing and urgent  human needs in situations of conflict. It is often the innocent and non-combatants, particularly the children who bear the brunt of the effects of conflicts. This mission resonates deeply with South Africa’s national values and foreign policy objectives. We look forward to working together with you and your team, and have no doubt that South Africa’s partnership with the ICRC will continue to prosper and grow from strength to strength under your vision and leadership.

The South African Government has had a distinct honour of partnering with the ICRC through these seminars for the past eleven years, to promote awareness and to enhance protection, particularly of civilians and non combatants in armed conflicts in Africa. In this regard there have been some encouraging achievements, for example, the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which are either signed or ratified by almost all countries in Africa, and as a result many children that were used as child soldiers have been reintegrated back into their communities and are also enrolled in schools. Like the ICRC, South Africa believes very strongly that the safety of all the vulnerable, especially women and children should be of primary consideration. However there are challenges that impede our progress going forward such as, capacity building, lack of financial resources and technical expertise. It is therefore my wish that this Seminar will be used as a platform to exchange best practices as well as solutions to challenges that we face in ensuring the effective implementation of IHL. I am confident that with your collective wisdom, nothing will stand in your way in finding solutions to these pressing challenges, especially because this seminar is the most relevant forum to shape the debate on the strengthening and development of IHL as well as to generate broader awareness of this important body of law.

We often overlook the need to ensure that local communities are well informed on IHL issues. Many communities, especially those who bear the brunt of the conflict, have very little information on IHL and the protection that it affords. In this regard, we need to take it upon ourselves as Governments to initiate and intensify IHL education outreach and awareness campaigns throughout our communities, particularly amongst our youth. It is not sufficient to incorporate IHL into their tertiary educational curricula, as is currently the practice in many countries. It is time for us to use IHL as a tool to develop critical thinking skills that will challenge the minds of our youth and get them actively involved in discussions on IHL.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over the next few days, we will reflect on the current and future impact that we as African states can have on the strengthening and development of IHL. This often neglected branch of international law is predicated on universal rules of a legally binding nature governing situations of international and non-international armed conflict. It is also the principal protection mechanism for civilian populations, who remain the primary victims of IHL violations committed by both state parties and non-state parties alike.

I believe that there is a need to operationalise the relevant structures of the AU and SADC to reflect on the effective implementation of IHL in the continent. As member states would recall, the SADC Strategic Indicative Plan of the Organ (SIPO) and the Constitutive Act of the AU make provisions for the strengthening of IHL thus a need to develop a uniform continental norms and standards for maximum protection of civilians. As a continent we should be in the position to draw from the international instruments such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols which provide a solid foundation around the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to see that this year’s Regional IHL Seminar is dedicated to acknowledging the tremendous work undertaken by the International Humanitarian Law Committees in various countries. These Committees play a vital role in advising and assisting governments on appropriate and coordinated measures relating to the ratification, implementation and dissemination of IHL in their respective countries. In addition to focusing on the work of National Committees dealing with IHL issues, the other central theme for the Seminar focuses on developments pertaining to weapons treaties. This is a particularly pertinent theme given the destructive and lethal nature of weapons on civilian populations. South Africa continues to advocate for a regulatory framework governing the use of weapons. We view the Convention on Cluster Munitions and Convention on Chemical Weapons as a critical first step towards mitigating the human suffering and widespread destructions posed by the use of these weapons. South Africa is working towards the ratification of both instruments and strongly encourages other countries to consider doing the same.

The South African Government is of the view that IHL and the protection of civilians must be discussed in all relevant international, regional and sub-regional forums. It is for this reason that I am pleased to announce that in October this year South Africa will co-host, together with the ICRC, the African Regional Consultative Conference on the Resolution “Strengthening of Legal Protection for Victims of Armed Conflicts,” which was adopted at the 31st Conference of the ICRC in November 2011. To those who attended this Conference, you will recall that the Resolution was the outcome of a study conducted by the ICRC to establish whether IHL as it exists today continues to provide an appropriate response to humanitarian crises arising from armed conflicts or whether the time has come to revise the rules governing IHL. The study did not determine the need to revise IHL, but identified areas to be strengthened in order to ensure that IHL remains relevant and practical in providing legal protection to victims of armed conflicts. South Africa is of the view that while IHL remains critical in dealing with contemporary armed conflicts, more must be done to enhance its effective implementation. The October conference is one of several on-going efforts undertaken by the Government of South Africa to stimulate and promote international discussions on how best to enhance and strengthen the legal protection accorded to victims of armed conflict.

The African agenda for development which is a continental framework for the achievement of (a) the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) objectives, (b) the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) and (c), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) are all impeded by intra-and inter-state conflicts. These are some of the key setbacks which must be addressed if the ideal of a prosperous African continent is to be achieved in third millennium.  I wish to encourage you to consult the recommendations of two extremely import reports previously commissioned by the former UNSG Kofi Annan, namely a) Brahimi report on durable peace in Africa and b) High Level panel on More Secured World: our shared responsibility.  These above-mentioned reports address the peculiarities of the African conflict situations and we could gain a lot of insight from the recommendations. 

In conclusion, I wish you productive and fruitful deliberations in the week ahead and an excellent stay in South Africa!

I thank you.

Issued by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation

OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road

14 August 2012

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