Opening Remarks by International Relations and Cooperation Deputy Minister Luwellyn Landers at the Fifteenth Annual Regional Seminar on the Implementation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), 18 August 2015, OR Tambo Building, Pretoria

Mr Juerg Eglin, Head of the Regional Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross ICRC) in South Africa,
Members of the ICRC staff present, from this region and Headquarters,
Board Members of the South African Red Cross Society (SARCS),
Excellencies and Distinguished participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour and great pleasure to address you this morning on behalf of the Government of South Africa and to welcome you to the 15th Annual Regional Seminar on the implementation of International Humanitarian Law.

Firstly, I would like to express my Government’s profound appreciation to our co-hosts, for making this auspicious event possible, but especially for the sterling work of the ICRC in our region. South Africa’s relationship with the ICRC has grown in leaps and bounds over many decades since the establishment of its Permanent Delegation in Pretoria in 1978.

The manifestation of this special relationship found expression in the collaboration the South African Red Cross Society (SARCS) and the ICRC which started community programmes in under-privileged communities, no doubt, inspiring many health workers who as youth had contact with the Red Cross, to pursue a career in this noble profession.

It is therefore with great delight that we welcome SARCS here today, taking its rightful place in our South African IHL team after having overcome intractable internal challenges over the last few years.

Alas, life is a mixture of good news and bad and it is with a sense of regret that we have learnt about the imminent departure of the Regional Head of the ICRC in South Africa, Mr Juerg Eglin. Mr Eglin, we would be quite happy to keep you here, however it appears you are destined for other pressing challenges on the Continent. We have common goals, and your success will be ours. Your departure might seem a loss to the region, but in the greater scheme of things, your work will continue to benefit the Continent. Be assured that our best wishes accompany you on your way forward.

Excellencies, Esteemed participants

Shocked by the horrors of war in the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in 1864, Swiss social activist Henry Dunant, mobilized the civilian population to take care of the wounded and sick soldiers who remained uncared for on the battlefield. This is how the ICRC came into being. Today, 151 years later, it seems humanity has not progressed much - humanitarian needs have reached record levels, stretching the humanitarian system to its limits while conflicts continue around the world with no end in sight.

According to the UN Secretary-General’s report for 2014, nearly 80% of the humanitarian work takes place in countries and regions affected by conflict in complete violation of IHL.

Some of the most lethal conflicts are playing out on our Continent, which make our work during the following three and a half days more crucial than ever before, not only because of the senseless pain and untold suffering war inflicts on innocent populations, but also because of the major threat it poses to the sustainable peace and development on the Continent.  In this regard the African Union Summit, held in South African in June 2015, set out measures for the rollout of Agenda 2063, a continental vision for the “Africa We Want”, and the African Union’s blueprint for “An Integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa”.

Our icon, affectionately known as Madiba said “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other”. It is this compassion which enables us to put ourselves in the place of others and to do our utmost to give hope where there is only despair. Respect for IHL is crucial and the protection of civilians must remain at its centre.

Madiba’s words are further enriched by the statement the President of the ICRC delivered during the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) Regional Consultation for the Middle East and Southern Africa when he said “ our work environment, our global society is marked by permanent high insecurity and by permanent transgressions of the limits of war. That is why a new global social contract, to overcome misconception and build consensus and engagement around the fundamentals that define civilization, the same fundamentals that lie at the heart of the Geneva Conventions.

This global social contract must elicit agreement on the implementation of basic norms to limit the effects of war on the civilian populations: the principles of precaution, distinction and proportionality in the conduct of hostilities, the general protection of civilians against abuses, the humane and fair treatment of detainees, the non-use of indiscriminate weapons.

This global social contract can help us to reaffirm our shared values as humanitarian so as to create the necessary space for the implementation of the core norms of International Humanitarian Law and overcome the creeping impunity which has become today’s status quo”.

Excellencies, esteemed participants,

This year the Seminar with its theme: “The Power of Humanity: International Humanitarian Law in Action” will focus on preparations for the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, scheduled to take place in Geneva, Switzerland from 8 – 10 December 2015. This very important platform will once again afford member States and all other relevant stakeholders, an opportunity to reflect on various issues of humanitarian importance and endeavor to come up with sustainable solutions.

During the previous International Conference in 2011, countries made certain pledges to promote compliance with IHL and will now further opportunity to consolidate their reflections and debates into new pledges and resolutions that will help create an environment with deepened respect for IHL.

The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation as current chair of the AU Peace and Security Council recently reiterated that South Africa stands for cooperation and partnership in its relations with Africa and the world and this approach remains central to our foreign policy.

The Minister also stressed that it is vital that the Continent identify and address the root causes of conflicts also referring to the 10 -year implementation plan of Agenda 2063 which sets as one of its targets silencing all guns by 2020. In this regard, National Committees on IHL have a key role to play in ensuring that all existing normative frameworks on peace and security are signed, ratified and domesticated to complete the Continental framework for silencing all guns.    

As such, the African Agenda occupies a central place in South Africa’s foreign policy and the resolution of its conflicts stands out as one of our key objectives. 
Excellencies, Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Peace and security are key requirements for Africa’s prosperity. This challenge becomes even more daunting with the changing face of contemporary armed conflicts. Modern technology has brought about many positive developments. On the grim side, it is increasingly characterized by an array of new and lethal methods of warfare - remote controlled weapons, automated weapon systems and even the possibility of combat robots on the battlefield in the future. Their use and the destruction they can cause have serious legal and practical implications for IHL.  

Martin Luther King said “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power, we have guided missiles and misguided men”.  If this is true, it is our duty to ensure that now, more than ever, respect for IHL becomes one of the top priorities of governments.

This situation has also been compounded by violent extremism that has befallen us. This violent extremism is challenging the shared values of the international community, but it is also contributing to a new reality.

The Seminar in this regard is timely as it will afford us an opportunity to strengthen by addressing the gaps that it has to enable it to be responsive this form of indiscriminate destruction that has no respect for the sanctity of life. That said, South Africa firmly condemns all forms of terrorism from whichever quarter and stands firmly with the international community in condemning it and we will continue to support regional and international efforts to address this scourge.

South Africa subscribes to a rules-based multilateral system and strongly urges governments to increase compliance with IHL instruments. Misuse of conventional weapons, including small arms and light weapons, is a matter of concern and it is important that arms do not end up in the wrong hands.

South Africa continues to promote the benefits that disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control hold for continental and international peace and security. In this regard, ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is of key importance.

South Africa counts among the 72 countries which have to date ratified the ATT and would like to urge others to follow suit where this is outstanding.

South Africa actively participates in UN efforts related to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, the Certain Conventional Weapons Convention, and the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons and has recently ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Excellencies, Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In preparation for the International Conference this Seminar will, also focus on the Health Care in Danger (HCiD) Project. As you might recall, the HCiD Project was initiated in accordance with resolution 5 adopted at the International Conference four years ago to raise awareness about deliberate attacks on healthcare in situations of armed conflict and to promote the protection and respect for the safe delivery of health care.

Together with 5 other countries, South Africa is one of the diplomatic champions at the forefront of the HCiD Project mobilising support for the protection of healthcare workers, health facilities and endangered patients.

South Africa co-hosted the African Regional HCiD Workshop together with the ICRC last year in April during which participants reflected on overcoming the obstacles to the safe delivery of healthcare. I have no doubt that you are sorely aware of the peculiar challenges of developing countries, which become more critical when contingency plans have to be put in place. Risk mitigation becomes severely constrained when material resources are limited and technical expertise non-existent.

The power of fora such as this one lies in the fact that we can apply our collective wisdom to find solutions to common problems and derive inspiration in the knowledge that we are united in our fight against the injustices of war. Suffice it to say that the safe delivery of healthcare in situations of conflict and other emergencies is of utmost importance and I wish you fruitful deliberations in this regard. 

Excellencies, Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion, the task ahead of you might appear daunting. But our humanitarian spirit must remain indomitable in the face of the manifold threats we are faced with. Einstein said “the world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”. My wish is that you will rise to the occasion and in my mind there is no doubt that you will.

I thank you. 

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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