Opening Remarks by Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Mr Luwellyn Landers, MP at the Seventeenth Annual Regional Seminar on the Implementation of International Humanitarian Law, 05 September 2017, Pretoria

Mr Vincent Cassard, Head of the Regional Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross for Southern Africa,
Honourable Innocent Gonese, Member of Parliament of the Republic of Zimbabwe,
Honourable Moremi Tawana, Member of Parliament of the Republic of Botswana
Major General Ford, from South African National Defence Force
Senior Officials from the participating Member States,
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,

At the outset I would request that we observe a moment of silence and pay tribute to the late Mr Abdullah al- Khamessi, founder of the Yemeni Red Crescent, who passed on in Ibn Sinaa hospital in Sanaa, Yemen.

I wish to welcome all participants on behalf of the Government of the Republic of South Africa to the 17th Annual Regional Seminar on the implementation of International Humanitarian Law. Once again, to express my Government’s appreciation to the ICRC for having started this important and historic journey which now marks its 17th year. This shows the commitment of both the Government of the Republic of South Africa and the ICRC and the importance they attach to this inviolable body of law.

This year’s theme focuses on “The 1977 Additional Protocols: 40 years after.” The theme is instructive as it poses a critical question to us on the relevance of the Additional Protocols in the midst of a growing egregious violations of IHL. When the law was conceived then, it was meant to respect the sanctity of life and protection of victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), protection of victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II) and the adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem (Protocol III).

Modern warfare has presented new challenges with the involvement of non-State actors with similar military power as States, the rise in the involvement of the Private Military Security Companies (PMSCs) in armed conflict, as well as the use of armed drones and other remotely piloted aircraft. These challenges touch on the vital elements of accountability, compliance and protection of victims and combatants. The continued attacks on healthcare facilities and personnel that are rendering essential services are tantamount to grave breaches of international humanitarian law. The war on terror is being executed at the expense of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including total disregard of International Humanitarian Law. The persistent abuse of the distinctive emblem of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent by elements whose objectives are contrary to the values principles of the Movement, imperils the good work undertaken in this regard.

However, all these and the resultant humanitarian catastrophes do not render the Additional Protocols irrelevant. The question remains: If the Additional Protocols were non-existent, would the humanitarian situations arising from armed conflict not be worse? IHL remains forever relevant despite all these challenges.

The primacy of International Humanitarian Law imposes obligations on States to protect civilians, including humanitarian and health personnel. All parties to armed conflict including armed opposition groups must also bear responsibility for ensuring that civilians and health personnel are protected. Furthermore, Member States have an obligation under international humanitarian law to allow and facilitate the safe and unhindered passage of humanitarian relief, including medical missions, their personnel and supplies. Therefore, South Africa as one of the Champion of the Healthcare in Danger (HciD) calls on the States to rally behind the Project and the Pledges adopted during the 2015 International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is South Africa’s view that the 40th Anniversary of the Additional Protocols provides the international community with an opportunity to galvanise the power of humanity by pledging its renewed commitment towards strengthening compliance with International Humanitarian Law. The ongoing deliberations in Geneva aimed at implementing Resolution 2 on Strengthening Compliance with IHL are essential efforts at closing the implementation gap and harnessing the political will of States to comply with IHL during armed conflict.

Among other important initiatives positively contributing to the respect for International Humanitarian Law is the Healthcare in Danger Project (HCiD) of which South Africa is one of the Champions in advocating for improving security and delivery of impartial and efficient healthcare service in armed conflict situations. The Protection issue is borne out of the fact that insecurity of and violence against healthcare in armed conflict is widespread and affects individuals, families and communities. Violence against healthcare is one of the biggest humanitarian problems today and the death of our colleague in Yemen is a testimony to this.

The role of the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies as auxiliary to Government, as well as the National IHL Committees needs to be reaffirmed as they play an essential role in fulfillment of the principle of voluntary service in advancement of the common good of humanity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In conclusion, the recent historic adoption of the UN Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons by the United Nations General Assembly because of their catastrophic humanitarian consequences must be applauded. This milestone development will set an international norm against nuclear weapons and will complement other relevant instruments such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT), the various nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties, such as the Pelindaba Treaty, and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

May I once again take this opportunity to congratulate you and to wish you a success in the deliberations of the Seminar.

I thank you

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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