Opening Remarks by Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Mr. Luwellyn Landers MP, at the Sixteenth Annual Regional Seminar on the Implementation of Humanitarian Law, Pretoria, 23-26 August 2016

Mr Vincent Cassard: Head of the Regional Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross for Southern Africa,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Members and staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross for Southern Africa,
Esteemed guests,
Members of the media,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour and privilege to deliver an opening address on this auspicious occasion of the 16th Annual Regional Seminar on the implementation of International Humanitarian Law. We have been convening these seminars for the past sixteen years in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Over these years we have had a continued discourse on pertinent issues on the implementation of International Humanitarian law.

This year’s theme focuses on “the Protection of Persons and Property in times of Armed Conflict”. This theme is indeed in line with the ICRC objectives, which is to provide assistance to the people that are “affected by armed conflict and promotes compliance with international humanitarian law”. In this regard, I would like to welcome Mr Cassard, the new Head of the Regional Delegation of the ICRC and the ICRC members for choosing a timely thematic area. Permit me to take this opportunity to assure you of South Africa’s willingness to further strengthen our collaboration for the betterment of the lives of people in the region, the continent and the world at large.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We remain grateful to the ICRC for their continued commitment to preserve human lives, dignity and wellbeing. It is common knowledge that the ICRC leaves no stone unturned in their quest to reach people who are yearning for humanitarian assistance and relief. They have a reach in places which most governments’ apparatus find it difficult to discharge their responsibilities of alleviating the pain and suffering of those in distress.

The ICRC is a worthy international partner which continues to contribute to the development and implementation of international mechanisms and frameworks for effective humanitarian assistance to people that are negatively affected by war and armed conflicts, particularly women and children.

I can confidently say that your work complements our foreign policy in pursuit of a Pan Africanist vision. This vision enjoins us to create a peaceful, stable and prosperous continent as well as working towards a just, fair and equitable world order. Thus in Africa the ICRC contributes in part to effective implementation of the African Union (AU)’s Peace and Security Architecture in order to create conducive conditions for sustainable development.

Ladies and gentlemen, 

This occasion provides an important platform for us to reflect on the progress made in ensuring compliance with the International Human Rights Law in Africa and most importantly to identify inhibiting factors with a view to address them. Broadly, it presents an opportunity to enhance our collaborative cooperation to promote and protect human rights in Africa and the world.

I believe that we have gathered here conscious of the persistent threats against humanitarian workers and peace keepers whose work is to salvage property and protect human lives in places of conflict.

The changing nature of conflict has not made our work any easier. Thus the emergence of intra-state conflicts has resulted in loss of lives and unprecedented movements of people across national borders. In Africa, this phenomenon threatens to reverse the gains recorded since the early 1990s in realizing the ideal of entrenching democracy and good governance.

We are currently still embroiled with conflicts in areas such as South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and the Central African Republic, amongst others.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have witnessed with great concern the emergence of new conflicts and the resurgent of human rights abuses which compels people to seek refuge elsewhere. I must hasten to indicate that these challenges are not limited to Africa. We have seen them manifest in parts of Europe, Asia the Middle-East and other continents. What compounds these peace and security challenges has been the growing threat of violent extremism and terror attacks in which thousands of innocent civilians are being targeted by armed terrorist groups.

In this new era of violent extremism, the historical sanctity of aid workers, medical personnel and hospitals no longer stands. Our historical, heritage and cultural property continues to be indiscriminately decimated.

Some conflict situations have also unfortunately morphed into humanitarian crises that governments alone cannot address. It requires the collective action and international solidarity of governments, civil society, citizens and all other stakeholders in order to address them, in all their intricacies be it conflict resolution, humanitarian aid or post conflict reconstruction and development. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Although there has been incremental progress in the application of the provisions of International Humanitarian Law, it still remains one of the key challenges in some of these conflict situations.

It is encouraging that more UN Member States have ratified the Geneva Convention and some of the related protocols. However, discrepancies in observing and implementing these international instruments tend to be disappointingly conspicuous.

In this regard, I must underscore what was reaffirmed during the 32nd International Conference of the ICRC in December 2015, that International Humanitarian Law, remains a sacrosanct body of law which is an internationally legally binding instrument. Furthermore, South Africa highlighted the view that High Contracting Parties should make stronger commitments to compliance and monitoring mechanisms.

The access for humanitarian workers to people in distress in conflict areas remains a challenge and a course for concern. We need to continue working within the collective of the United Nations, particularly its Security Council to ensure unfettered access for humanitarian workers. Thus humanitarian workers’ security needs to be prioritised.  Otherwise, this insecurity will persistently inhibit our efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to helpless people. Simply put, peacekeepers and humanitarian workers are exposed to the same fate faced by those they are trying to protect. It is therefore important that we continue supporting the UN General Assembly resolution on the Safety and Security of Humanitarian Personnel.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 2014, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that the number of people that have been adversely affected by humanitarian crises has almost doubled in the past ten years. I can only imagine the extent to which these numbers have increased in the wake of the so-called Europe migration crisis, among others.

In a separate but related matter we have also recently recovered from the Ebola crises which broke out in West Africa in 2014, which required immense humanitarian support. This crisis highlighted a major challenge regarding the protection of medical personnel, particularly when we consider the contagious nature of the virus and its potential to be transmitted from one country to the other with ease.

You will recall that in our bid to address this critical issue we intensified global efforts which yielded positive results we are all proud of. As a member of the group of seven (G7) countries of the Global Health and Foreign Policy, South Africa contributed to the adoption of the UN General Assembly resolution on the protection of health care workers, which strongly condemned all attacks on medical and health personnel which:

“…stresses the obligation, in accordance with international humanitarian laws and applicable national laws and regulations, to respect and protect medical personnel and transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities, in all circumstances”,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I cannot stress enough that the destruction caused by conflict goes beyond people and as such devastates our continental economies and infrastructure, which further delays socio -political and economic recovery after conflict. It destroys our historical and cultural monuments which alters country’s traditions, and obscures information for future generations. The near destruction of the manuscripts of Timbuktu is testimony to this fact and which propelled us into taking action in an attempt to preserve our shared history.

Let me conclude by wishing you well in your deliberations during the next few days. I am confident that your in-depth reflections and the outcomes of this seminar will further enable us to bring hope to those in distress due to conflicts on our continent and other parts of the world.

I thank you!


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