Keynote Address by Deputy Minister Alvin Botes at the 21st Annual Regional Seminar on the Implementation of International Humanitarian Law: 22 - 25 November 2022

Theme - International Humanitarian Law: An African Perspective on Contemporary Global Challenges”, 22 November 2022

Distinguished Co-Chairs,
Mr Amoti, the Head of the Regional Delegation, ICRC Pretoria,
Ambassador Gladys Mokhawa,
Honourable delegates from the region,
Members of the National IHL Committees,
ICRC delegates and fellow colleagues,

I am honoured and privileged to be welcoming you all and opening our 21st Annual Regional Seminar on the implementation of International Humanitarian Law for Southern Africa and Indian Ocean Island States. It is a great pleasure to once again be gathering with you in person at the OR Tambo Building to co-host this prestigious event post COVID restrictions and limitations.

Allow me to extend a special welcome to our first rotational co-chair; Ambassador Gladys Mokhawa, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation of Botswana. It is an honour for South Africa to be sharing this opportunity with you, together with the ICRC. This is the first step towards enhancing the Seminar’s regional ownership and collective responsibility in both design and practice. I am certain that these steps will contribute significantly towards the continued success of this Regional Seminar.

Similarly, let me extend on behalf of South Africa my gratitude to the ICRC for their continued partnership with DIRCO to jointly host this event annually; and to Mr Amoti and the ICRC team that continue to work diligently towards making this Seminar substantively effective and logistically efficient.

This seminar has become an institution in this region over the past 21 years, demonstrating our commitment towards strengthening compliance with International Humanitarian Law. The overarching theme for this year’s Regional Seminar on “IHL: an African Perspective on Contemporary global challenges” allows us as Member States to unpack and explore key areas of international humanitarian Law through an African lens.

Allow me to pause here and reflect on the Exhibition just outside which so succinctly examines the historical relationship between Africa and IHL, as reflected in traditional customs, which is only one example of how IHL and its application and principles are linked to our region. For centuries, Africa’s local customs, practices, and traditional institutions in times of warfare have been and continue to be strongly consistent with the provisions under the current Geneva Conventions. Even today these remain relevant in enhancing the understanding of International Humanitarian Law and its applicability.

This year’s Seminar comes at a time when the world is faced with a multiplicity of contemporary challenges exacerbated by geopolitical dynamics and new conflicts. Humanitarian situations resulting from armed conflicts, climate change, food insecurity and growing displacement in a post COVID world require enhanced efforts in all areas including the strengthening of and compliance with IHL and its effective application during both times of peace and times of war to ensure the alleviation of suffering of those directly impacted. Similarly, the rise in violent extremism and terrorism as well as the proliferation of small arms and light weapons destabilise communities, negatively impact peace, security, stability and development in Africa.

Distinguished Guests,

We have seen how the emergence of new armed conflicts have exacerbated contemporary challenges impacting the already volatile global economy and resulting in dire humanitarian situations with large displacements, where the most vulnerable, including women and children are disproportionately affected, more so when adherence to IHL is neglected. The applicability of and adherence to IHL not only during times of war but during times of peace remain crucial in the prevention of and response efforts to armed conflict, including conduct during armed conflict.

The importance and relevance of IHL in today’s world given the complex nature of the global challenges we face, should not be underestimated. The role IHL continues to play in protecting humanity in the worst of times should be upheld, complied with and in fact strengthened.

South Africa will remain steadfast in advancing the maintenance of international peace and security by advocating for the peaceful political settlement of disputes and inclusive dialogue. South Africa’s involvement in the resolution of conflicts, peace keeping missions, peacebuilding, and post -conflict reconstruction and development efforts demonstrates our commitment towards humanitarian diplomacy while advocating for adherence to the effective application of IHL during armed conflict.

In the context of promoting peace and stability in the continent, earlier this month South Africa hosted the first direct peace talks between the Federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which concluded with the signing of the peace agreement on 2 November 2022. This agreement sets out a detailed program of disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration for the TPLF combatants. The process to reach the peace agreement is proof that an African solution to an African problem is possible. Furthermore, South Africa remains ready to contribute to the implementation process of the Agreement. This agreement marked an important milestone in the AU-led mediation process hosted in South Africa, in pursuit of a peaceful solution to the conflict.

We further emphasise the importance of the role of women in peace and security and the need for women to be involved in conflict prevention, management, and peacebuilding. A gender perspective must be integrated into all these processes, considering that women, men, boys, and girls have different needs, experiences and are differently affected by the effect of conflicts. While being cognisant of women as victims, some even becoming refugees during armed conflict, and to provide for their protection, it is important to also see them as actors and empower them to participate in creating more sustainable peace and security for all.

Distinguished guests,

Regional and sub-regional organisations and platforms, like this Seminar, continue to play a pivotal role in responding and preparedness for some of the most complex humanitarian challenges and conflict situations. The Seminar not only provides us as Governments the opportunity to reflect and share our national progress with respect to IHL implementation and our obligations but also allows for the realisation of concrete commitments and tangible outcomes, such as the establishment and strengthening of National IHL Committees, which have proven to be one of our Region’s key priorities towards ensuring the implementation of IHL.

The progress made by Southern Africa and Indian Ocean Island States in implementing IHL have been significant, in part due to the exemplary nature of the Seminar through continuing peer – to - peer engagement in an environment of mutual respect and trust. We trust that this year is no different and I am confident your sharing of best practices and experiences will further strengthen our national efforts in IHL compliance. The cross-regional nature of sharing experiences has also ensured that Southern Africa is able to learn from other regions in the continent like East and West Africa. We thus appreciate the participation from representatives from these regions in the seminar.

In conclusion, let me thank all of you for your commitment and support towards the success of the Seminar. It is my hope that, together as a region, we will identify domestic, regional, and continental priorities that could be used to realise the full implementation and enforcement of our obligations under IHL. The outcomes of this Seminar could serve as regional commitments in the upcoming ICRC International Conference in 2023 countries in the region also participate and make inputs in. Let me wish you all a successful Seminar with fruitful deliberations that will result in tangible outcomes for our Region.

Thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road
Rietondale
Pretoria
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