Address by Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim entitled “20 Years of South Africa and Multilateralism: Returning to the fold,” University of KwaZulu Natal, 19 March 2014
Vice Chancellor, Professor Makgoba
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for the invitation to address you today. It is indeed an honour for me to once again visit the University of KwaZulu Natal and to engage with you on South Africa’s foreign policy and international achievements over the past two decades, with specific focus on our multilateral engagement. I also look forward to a good engagement with you during the question and answer session.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This year South Africa marks the 20th anniversary of our democratic transition – a transition which also marked the end of our country’s pariah status and our full integration into the structures and processes of the international community.
Since 1994 a primary foreign policy priority was to accelerate our reintegration into the international community and to promote an international rules-based system through active and constructive participation in multilateral institutions and processes. Our foreign policy has been inspired by our history and guided by our ethos and principles, foremost amongst which is the desire for a more just, humane and equitable world. In the conduct of our international relations, we attach the utmost importance to the promotion of human rights, democracy, justice and the international rule of law. These principles necessarily place multilateral institutions, specifically the United Nations, at the centre of our foreign policy activities. Furthermore, Globalisation has created a highly interconnected and interdependent world of complex new transnational threats like climate change, pandemic disease and food security, in which common problems can longer be solved without the collective efforts of all members of the international system acting together through multilateral institutions.
The centrality of the United Nations to South Africa’s foreign engagement is in part based on a strong belief in collective and equitable global governance, but also because of the organization’s role in the fight against apartheid.
Through the many decades leading up to 1994, the UN took many important steps that assisted in the international struggle against apartheid. The UN became the voice of the voiceless. For example, in 1973, the UN declared apartheid a crime against humanity with the approval of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid by the General Assembly. This resulted in 1974, in the suspension of South Africa’s membership to the United Nations to be restored only in June 1994, after the first democratic elections.
It is therefore no wonder that with the dawn of democracy in South Africa the new government eagerly plunged into its new international role, and enthusiastically took up our responsibilities as an active member of the UN. Moreover, taking our place in the community of nations came with high expectations shaped by our peaceful transition referred to as the “South African miracle” and the iconic status of President Nelson Mandela as a lodestar of reconciliation and forgiveness.
South Africa met the challenge and immediately took on huge international responsibilities. The principles that motivated our action are still relevant today: a firm belief in multilateralism – especially a global governance system that is fair, equitable and representative; the promotion of peace and security through global disarmament, the pacific settlement of disputes and the promotion of good governance; the promotion of human rights; and the fight against poverty through the promotion of sustainable development.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Time does not permit me to elaborate on the vast array of activities and achievements in this field over the past 20 years, such as: hosting the NAM Summit in 1998, the Commonwealth Heads of Government in 1999, the first Summit of the African Union in 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, and CoP XVII in 2011 – rather, I wish to highlight a few achievements in our priority areas over the past two decades.
The first of these is our international role in the continued fight against racism as an international scourge, culminating in 2001 in our hosting of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
Under the leadership of the Chair of the Conference, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the delegates adopted the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action (DDPA), which reasserts the principles of equality and non-discrimination as core human rights with the aim of transforming victims of discrimination into rights-holders and States into duty bearers. There have been concerted attempts to reverse the outcomes of the DDPA and to renege on commitments made, especially by the United States and allies with the aim of protecting Israel’s discriminatory policies.
The struggle against racism and other forms of discrimination is far from over and South Africa’s commitment to fight racism and to promote human rights will remain strong – inspired by those who paid the ultimate price in the fight against racism and injustice. Our message to the world is that the best way of honouring Madiba’s legacy is to honour the outcomes of the Durban Summit and its review conference.
Today, South Africa is serving its third term on the UN Human Rights Council. In addressing the high-level segment of that Council two weeks ago, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane reiterated that we remain firmly committed to the mandate of the United Nations Human Rights Council. She further reiterated that South Africa, as one of the 47 members of the Council, will at all times be guided by: “a common desire and collective vision to constantly develop norms and standards for the promotion, protection and fulfillment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including respect for international humanitarian law. This will ensure that the Council guarantees (i) maximum protection, (ii) adequate remedies to all victims of human rights abuses and violations through a uniform regulatory framework, and (iii) that there is no impunity for human rights violations.”
Ladies and gentlemen,
The second area I wish to highlight is our commitment to see a peaceful world free of weapons of mass destruction.
With the voluntary renunciation and dismantling of the apartheid bomb during the early 1990s and South Africa’s successful democratic transition, it was natural for the country to assume a key role during the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – this first major international conference since the inauguration of our new Government. It is on this occasion that South Africa earned its new-found status as a bridge-builder and key player in the multilateral arena by brokering a deal that would not only extend the lifespan of the Treaty, but also hold the nuclear powers responsible for fulfilling their nuclear disarmament obligations.
Building on its achievements at the NPT, South Africa also played a leading role in the process to ban anti-personnel mines that kill and maim civilians and stifle economic development on the African continent and beyond. During the last 20 years South Africa has been able to build on these early achievements across the full range of disarmament issues, from conventional arms to weapons of mass destruction.
Today, we continue our quest for a world free from the threats posed by arms that are indiscriminate or cause excessive harm to civilians. This includes our active engagement in the area of conventional arms, such as the recently concluded Arms Trade Treaty, as well as efforts to finally rid our world of the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. It is in this context, that we are also playing an active role in the recent initiative on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A third area of interest in South Africa’s post-apartheid foreign policy has been in the global fight for the eradication of poverty. There are three dimensions essential to this fight for sustainable development, namely the promotion of: economic development, social development and environmental sustainability. No state can achieve such lofty goals on their own making partnerships and global action important to the achievement of national priorities. We acknowledged this link early on when in 1996, South Africa hosted the 9th UN Conference on Trade and Development. Under South Africa’s leadership UNCTAD IX adopted the Midrand Declaration, which stated: “At no time in world history has the destiny of all its many different peoples been so intertwined. This must lead to solidarity in action to eradicate poverty.”
Building on this notion, world leaders gathered at the UN Head Quarters in New York in 2000 to adopt the Millennium Declaration in which they committed to eradicate extreme poverty through the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. These international measures have informed our domestic policy and many of the government’s policies aimed at the eradication of poverty and inequality in South Africa. Last week with the introduction of the “20 Year Review: South Africa 1994 to 2014”, President Zuma announced that South Africa is on track to have fulfilled all its obligations under the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Today, international focus is on looking beyond 2015. The global economic crisis and the reconfiguration of global politics has opened new opportunities to throw off the shackles of global apartheid and to direct the globalisation process to prevent harm to the most vulnerable. A Special Meeting of the UN General Assembly recently decided to launch an intergovernmental process which will lead to the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda. This would allow all member states, particularly developing countries that have the most at stake, an opportunity to engage in a multilateral process to determine the global development agenda. For South Africa the goal is to locate development appropriately to ensure that agreed targets and commitments are not re-negotiated and also to ensure that the process forward is all-inclusive.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The next area I wish to highlight is that of the promotion of international peace and security. Our own peaceful transition from the brink of civil war is central to our approach to the resolution of disputes and remains an example to the world of how a deeply divided country on the brink of disaster can build a nation through all-inclusive dialogue. Moreover, our approach towards peace and security is based on the belief that South Africa’s security and development is inextricably linked to the welfare of our Continent – we will only be able to fully deliver our development commitments to our own people if we can fully benefit from the economic growth of a Continent at peace with itself.
Thus the development and security of the African Continent is a key area in our foreign policy. In the past 20 years we have played an active role in reshaping the Organization for African Unity into the African Union specifically with the aim of strengthening Africa’s ability to address conflicts on the Continent. Since its inception in 2002 at the Durban Summit, the African Union has established and consolidated a comprehensive Peace and Security Architecture. The architecture is based on a paradigm that recognises preventive diplomacy as central to eradicating conflicts on our Continent. These mechanisms that the African Union has put in place bear testimony to the determination of our Continent to address peace and security challenges in a comprehensive manner.
Building further on our commitment to international peace and security, specifically on the African Continent, South Africa served four of the past seven years on the UN Security Council. Throughout its two terms South Africa prioritised the resolution of conflict and the attainment of peace and stability on the Continent, whilst advocating a strengthened partnership between the UN and the African Union (AU). South Africa also focused on defending the integrity of the UN Charter and the Rule of Law as the foundation for multilateral cooperation.
A highlight of South Africa’s most recent term on the Council was its Presidency of the Council in January 2012, which had as its theme the strengthening of the partnership between the UN and the African Union (AU). Building on the success of South Africa’s 2007/2008 UNSC term in promoting closer cooperation between the UNSC and the AU Peace and Security Council (AU-PSC), South Africa promoted the view that greater strategic coordination between the two bodies would increase the effectiveness of the UNSC in addressing African conflict situations. President Zuma presided over a meeting, which resulted in the unanimous adoption of Resolution 2033 (2012). The resolution formalises cooperation between the UN and AU as a permanent part of the Council’s work and focuses on achieving coherence between the two bodies in dealing with African conflicts.
However, we also witnessed numerous failures of the Council, often because of its antiquated structure. One such example is the Security Council’s inability to substantively address the long-outstanding matter of the Question of Palestine. Unfortunately the UN Security Council has not been able to move a negotiated settlement towards a two-state solution along, mainly because of the narrow self-interest of one or two permanent members of the Council. For example, since 2000 Permanent Members of the Security Council have vetoed 14 resolutions addressing the situation in the Middle East. Ten of the 14 vetoes were cast by the United States, of which 9 were related to the situation between Israel and Palestine. The most recent veto on this matter was cast in February 2011 by the United States, when 138 Member States of the United Nations supported a Security Council resolution calling for an end to settlement activities by Israel in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as such activities are illegal under international law.
Another profound failure of the Council has been its inability to give concrete support for the efforts of the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on Syria, to bring the parties to move towards a negotiated solution.
When our last term on the Council ended in December 2012, South Africa left the Security Council more convinced than ever before of the urgency of the long-outstanding reform of that body. This has motivated our fight to advance the urgent reform of the Security Council, including its working methods, to make it more democratic, representative and legitimate. In September 2013, President Zuma challenged the UN membership to not celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the formation of the United Nations in 2015 with an unreformed UN Security Council.
To put it bluntly, the way the Council is currently formed is unfair to developing and small states, and disenfranchises the majority of the Member States of the United Nations, who form the majority of the General Assembly. In its nearly 70 years of existence the Council has expanded only once, in 1964, when the Council’s membership was increased from 11 to 15. At the time, the legitimacy of the Council was questioned because its 11 members represented only 10 % of the UN’s membership at the time – as opposed to 21% in 1945 at the creation of the UN. Today the 15 members of the Council represent only 8% of the UN membership. Moreover, how can the Council be legitimate and representative, if two continents, namely Africa and Latin America, are not represented at all in the permanent category?
The Security Council remains the primary international organ mandated to promote international peace and security. It is essential that it remains true to its mandate and moves beyond the paralysis brought on by the geo-political interests of a few member states. The only way this can happen is if world leaders, including those that represent the Permanent Members of the Security Council, are bold and courageous and commit to enlarging the Security Council urgently. Failure to do so will encourage states to start acting unilaterally, with disastrous consequences for all.
I wish to conclude by restating our commitment to multilateralism. The world is entering a potentially turbulent period as the era of western primacy comes to an end, and new powers rise and compete over status and interests. To us it is clear that acting unilaterally and military supremacy are not the answers to preserving stability in this time of flux. The best safeguard of our security and prosperity is to consolidate rather than erode international rule of law which informs the exercise and limits of the use of state power, and to embed the principles of cooperation over conflict and collaboration over confrontation. The challenge before us is to transform global politics from a power-based hierarchy to a rules-based system of international society.
As President Mandela put it in 2002: “No country, however powerful it may be, is entitled to act outside the United Nations. The United Nations was established in order that countries, irrespective of the continent from which they come, should act through an organized and disciplined body. The United Nations is here to promote peace in the world and any country that acts outside the United Nations is making a serious mistake.”
I thank you.
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION