Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the Security Council Open Debate on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Upholding the Charter of the United Nations, 09 January 2020
As this is the first open debate for the year 2020, South Africa would like to use this opportunity of welcoming the new elected members, Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Vietnam to the Council. We wish you the best during your two-year term. We have no doubt that the newly elected members will play a constructive role in the work of the Council, and we look forward to working with you to this end.
We also thank the outgoing elected members, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Peru and Poland for their positive contributions to the work of the Council.
We thank you Mr President, for dedicating the first thematic debate, during this historic 75th year for the United Nations, to the Charter, which forms the foundation of this Organisation’s very existence and our on-going work.
As a founding member of the UN, South Africa, together with fellow African States, Ethiopia, Egypt and Liberia, participated in the drafting and adoption of the UN Charter at the San Francisco conference. South Africa deposited its instrument of ratification on 7 November 1945.
We note with regret that the Foreign Minister of Iran was not granted a visa to attend this meeting, thus denying an important actor in the troubled Gulf region the opportunity to express its views on peace and security in the context of a debate on the UN Charter.
The denial of entry to member states of the UN (one of which participated in the drafting of the Charter and deposited its instrument of ratification on 24 October 1945), to participate in debates at the UN, contravenes the 1947 hosting agreement and also serves to curtail the resolution of disputes through constructive dialogue.
The signing of the Charter of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945 was a seminal moment in the relations of States, which invoked a sense of unity for a common cause. A moment, during which, as the second Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld later pointed out, “The hopes that were then aroused in many hearts out-ran the limitations of human nature”. The signing of the UN Charter was and remains an expression of hope that the peoples of the world can live in peace and prosperity in larger freedom.
The UN Charter represents a normative and contractual framework of the values we, as nations of the world, aspire to and the commitments we intend to abide by. Following the unsuccessful attempt of the Covenant of the League of Nations to create an environment in which another world war could be averted, the UN Charter succeeded in the creation of a multilateral system of governance that has ensured that countries are able to convene within a rules-based framework to discuss and promote issues of international peace and security, human rights and development.
We recognise that since its inception the Charter has played a significant role in regulating relations between Member States by forbidding the use of threat or force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, and advocating for the peaceful settlement of their disputes.
While the Charter reinforces the respect for sovereignty of nations, it also in Article 33 calls on all nations, to collectively pursue a non-antagonistic and mutually beneficial approach to its international relations.
Despite the noble aspirations of the Charter and its positive impact, some Member States have and still continue to violate some of its central tenets. Article 2.1 of the Charter maintains that the UN is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members, however, unilateral actions and disregard for international law continue.
This enables those with power, to violate the Charter by, for example, settling their disputes by non-peaceful means, in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are severely endangered. However, this assumption of power does not exempt them from the adverse consequences we all have to bear if we flout the principles enshrined in the Charter. These consequences are often uncontrollable and impact on the long term security of all as is witnessed in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and other parts of the world.
Recent developments acutely illustrate this point, and it is discouraging to note that the actions of some endanger the lives and wellbeing of us all, whether by the possession of weapons of mass destruction or the violation of the sovereignty of other nations through the illegal and unilateral use of force or by extra-judicial action leading to a runaway spiral of escalating violence and destruction.
We must stress that the Charter is a compact, which Member States have agreed to voluntarily abide by for their mutual benefit. There cannot be selective adherence to the Charter as it would undermine the very credibility of such a compact. Selective implementation of the Charter undermines this Organisation and the post-World War II international system of governance that we have developed.
The Charter is very clear that the Security Council is the sole body to authorise the use of force. Additionally, the Charter does provide for states to act in self-defence, including confronting imminent threats, but these threats must be credible, real and objectively verifiable for the use of force without Security Council authorisation to be justifiable.
Unfortunately, state practice over the last 75 years has gone beyond what the drafters of the Charter intended. What we have instead seen is that the Charter has been abused to justify the illegal use of force.
To uphold the original intention of the Charter, which ultimately is predicated on peace, South Africa is of the view that even in the event that there is evidence of a real and credible threat, any recourse to the use of force based on self-defence should be brought to the Security Council to authorise.
This will help to ensure that the use of force should be deployed for common international interests and not for the narrow interests of a single state or group of states whose actions often exacerbates threats to global peace and security.
Ultimately, the Charter seeks to prevent the use of force. Therefore, the issue is not just about whether the use of force is legal or not, but whether its use contributes to the Charter’s vision of a more peaceful and prosperous world.
It is out of necessity that the Charter provisions of equality of nations, mutual respect and the adherence to international law are upheld if we are to resolve current disputes through negotiated settlement and to prevent the outbreak of further conflicts. This approach is necessary in the context of emerging threats to international peace and security such as growing intra-state and trans-state conflicts, the rise of non-state actors, terrorism, transnational organised crime, and other such acutely global threats. We should not allow for competing political interests to undermine respect for international law and self-determination in cases such as Western Sahara, and the occupied Palestinian territories.
The Charter is explicit on the role of Regional Organisations as reflected in Chapter VIII, which makes provision for regional arrangements to address matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security. This Chapter is testament to the vision of the drafters of the Charter, as at the time, regional organisations were not as developed and equipped to deal with peace and security matters as they are today.
In the present day, Chapter VIII is even more relevant with regional organisations, particularly the African Union and regional economic communities on the African Continent, having established peace and security mechanisms including those dealing with mediation, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. As members of the UN, we must continue our efforts at strengthening cooperation and coordination with regional arrangements to ensure that our efforts are complimentary and mutually reinforcing.
While the Charter remains relevant, we must acknowledge that the world today is very different from the world that existed 75 years ago when the Charter was signed. At the time of signing, there were 51 Member States. The majority of Member States from Africa and Asia that make up today’s 193 Member States, were not yet independent.
While the values that underpin the Organisation should not be changed, Charter amendments are necessary to ensure that the Organisation reflects the current global reality. In the first few years of the Organisation’s existence, Member States were willing to make the necessary amendments to the Charter and the 5 Charter amendments that were made, accommodated the growing membership.
However, it has been almost 47 years since the last Charter amendment. For the Organisation to be effective and remain relevant it must reflect the current state of the world and we must be willing to make the necessary changes to ensure that Member States are adequately represented in all the principal organs, including the Security Council.
As we reflect on the importance of the Charter and ways to strengthen its purposes, perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether the hopes that were aroused during the formation of this Organisation succumbed to the limitations of human nature that Hammarskjöld spoke about.
We cannot allow the tremendous gains that have been made, to galvanise collective action through the UN, to be lost. We must use the opportunity of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Charter and the UN itself to recommit to the aspirations we had when it was signed.
This would necessitate us to recommit to uphold and return to the letter and spirit of the Charter and its central principles through which we pursue international peace and security and continue to pursue the mutual benefit and development of all. This is not an optional approach but a prerequisite and necessity for international peace and security and for creating a world, which understands that, the interests of each nation is imbedded in the interests of all.
I thank you.
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