The Levant


South Africa is committed to finding a just, comprehensive and lasting peace to the Middle East conflict, on the basis of UNSCR 242,338, 1397, 1402 and 1403 as well as on the land-for-peace principle. The South African Government is further committed to ensuring that the current level of violence in the region is "ended" and that the Israelis and Palestinians resume meaningful talks leading to negotiations, in good faith, towards resolving final status issues. South Africa has endorsed, along with the majority of the international community, the Mitchell Report recommendations, the Tenet Understandings and the joint Egyptian-Jordanian initiative as mechanisms to restore calm and create a climate conducive to negotiations. South Africa is also in support of any other peace initiatives that strives for the international recognition of the Palestinian State along side the Israeli State. In particular South Africa has welcomed the Arab Peace Initiative of March 2002 and the work of the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and the UN).

South African Government perspective: Bilateral involvement

The South African Government inherited strong bilateral relations with Israel that have been constructively transformed and built upon. The South African Government is also held in high regard by the Palestinian people and their leadership for its achievements in the struggle against apartheid and rebuilding the nation. Our country contains meaningful Jewish and Muslim minorities, both of which ensure that South African civil society is seized with the issues that dominate the region. The South African example of conflict resolution, negotiating a settlement and transforming society is of much interest to those parties committed to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict.

In consultation with key role-players involved in the Middle East peace process, President Mbeki hosted a Presidential Retreat at Spier Estate in Cape Town from 9th to 11th January 2002. The Retreat was attended by senior participants from Palestine, led by Ministers Saeb Erekat and Zaid Abu Ziad and from Israel by former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and Speaker of the Knesset Avraham Burg. Several current and former South African Cabinet Ministers were also present.

The principle aims of the Retreat were:

To support the ongoing initiatives towards the creation of a favourable environment to restart peace negotiations; Share South African experience in negotiations, peacemaking and transition to democracy; and Support the strengthening of the peace camps in Palestine and Israel as well as the general dynamic towards peace in the region.
This unique event produced a ‘Spier Three Party Communiqué’ that demonstrates the spirit of commitment to dialogue and partnership for peace between the three parties present. The Retreat provided an opportunity for those on both sides of the conflict who wish to return to the peace process to re-engage in direct communication for the first time in over a year. Both the Israeli and Palestinian delegations expressed great appreciation and interest in the experiences of negotiations shared by the South African delegation and the constructive atmosphere created by the President and the South African hosts.

Multilateral involvement

On 2 June 2002, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, in her capacity as Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) led a delegation of six Ministers of NAM Member States (India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Mauritius, and Zimbabwe) to Ramallah to express solidarity with President Arafat and the Palestinian people. The mandate flowed from the Ministerial Meeting of the NAM Committee on Palestine, which took place in Durban on 27 April 2002.

The NAM has a traditional and long-standing position of solidarity with the Palestinian people and their inalienable right to establish an independent state with its capital in Jerusalem. The Movement has also persistently called on Israel to end its illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, for the withdrawal of illegal settlers from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and more recently to cease its illegal military actions in the Palestinian Territory immediately.

Since the start of the present cycle of violence in the Middle East, the NAM has been at the forefront in the search for an end to the crisis. The Movement has prioritised the Question of Palestine.

The Committee on Palestine at its Meeting in Pretoria in May 2001 intensified its efforts by mandating the Chair of the Movement to enhance the engagement with all forces active in the Middle East Conflict, a mandate vigorously pursued by South Africa as Chair at all levels.

To this end the President and Minister Dlamini Zuma have been engaging with their counterparts in Israel, Palestine, the US, the EU, the Russian Federation and Middle Eastern countries. The NAM mandate further enhances the South African foreign policy perspective that non-aligned countries and countries of the South can act as serious and responsible global players.

South Africa has supported resolutions both in the UN Security Council and in the UN General Assembly calling for the parties to take certain steps in order to normalise the situation. South Africa has also pronounced itself in favour of the deployment of an international monitoring force in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As Chair of the NAM Co-ordinating Bureau in New York, the South African Permanent Representative to the UN is very active in co-ordinating positions of NAM member states on issues surrounding the crisis in the Middle East. For further detail, please refer to the Report of the Chair on the activities of the Non-Aligned Movement to the Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Heads of Delegation, Durban, 28 to 29 April 2002.

As one of the High Contracting Parties (HCPs) to the IV Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, South Africa, along with the vast majority of HCPs, supports its de jure applicability to the Palestinian Occupied Territories and backed the reconvening of the Conference of HCPs, held on 5 December 2001, as well as the Statement issued by that Conference. South Africa, in its capacity as Chair of the NAM, was one of few countries that delivered a statement to the reconvened Conference of High Contracting Parties.


On 6 August 1990, four days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, UN Security Council Resolution 661 was passed, imposing comprehensive economic sanctions on Iraq. Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, the resolution placed restrictions and embargoes on the Iraqi State as punishment for the violation of international law and the infringement of the sovereignty of Kuwait. Member states of the United Nations were thereby prevented from importing any products or commodities originating in Iraq (and occupied Kuwait). The export of commodities to Iraq was embargoed. A sanctions committee, comprising of the 15 Security Council members was established in terms of paragraph 6 of the resolution to oversee, examine and report on the progress of the implementation of the resolution.

On the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait, the Security Council reviewed the sanctions regime and the situation in the Gulf, and resolved to address all issues emanating from the Gulf War. To that effect, United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 of 3 April 1991 expressed the need for concern and vigilance of the potential threat that Iraq might pose. Resolution 687 set the terms for the cease-fire. This resolution stated that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction posed a potential danger, a threat that needed to be diminished by the destruction of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The applicability of the sanctions (in terms of resolution 661) was then extended until full compliance by the Iraqi Government. The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) was established to investigate Iraqi activities relating to weapons of mass destruction and to monitor the disarmament programme.

It became increasingly evident that the sanctions were having serious implications on the civilian population of Iraq. Although the resolution made provision for the acquisition of food, medicine and humanitarian necessities, Iraq was economically crippled, as it was unable to pay for imports without income generated mainly by the export of oil. With the situation deteriorating in Iraq, the international community could no longer ignore the need for reform of the sanctions regime. The UN Security Council therefore adopted resolution 986, known as the "Oil for Food" resolution, which provided that Iraq would be permitted to export a limited amount of oil to provide for the purchase of basic necessities. Each contract would be scrutinised by the Sanctions Committee to ensure that products that were sold to Iraq were not items of dual use that could possibly be used in the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. The resolution would be renewable on a six-monthly basis.

In 1998, UNSCOM inspectors left Iraq before air strikes against Baghdad, carried out by the US and the UK, citing lack of co-operation by the Government of Iraq with the inspection teams. The inspectors were not allowed to return to Iraq.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1284, adopted in December 1999, reiterated the importance of previous resolutions, particularly Resolution 687. This resolution further stressed the need for Iraqi compliance with and implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions passed since 1990. The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) was established to replace UNSCOM. This resolution also lifted the restriction on the amount of oil that Iraq was allowed to sell, but maintained stringent controls on all imports into Iraq.

On 14 May 2002 the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1409 (2002), which extends the mandate of the oil-for-food programme by 180 days (i.e. from 30 May 2002 until November 2002). The resolution eases the restrictions on the sale of civilian goods to Iraq, whilst simultaneously tightening the controls on the supply of militarily useful items. The prohibition on the sale of weapons and military goods to Iraq remains in force. Resolution 1409 reverses the logic of the old sanctions regime because it proceeds from the presumption that all contracts are approved, unless they are found to contain prohibited military items or militarily useful items that are listed in the new Goods Review List. The United Nations 661 Committee would have to approve the sale to Iraq of any item on the Goods Review List.

The new resolution seems to satisfy most international players who were previously lobbying for the lifting of sanctions on the basis of their concern for the humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq resulting from the sanctions. This resolution also opens new trade opportunities into an exciting and potentially lucrative market. South African exporters are in an ideal position to take advantage of the change in the sanctions regime. The website of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme contains a comprehensive guide to the procedures to be followed in trading with Iraq.

There remains cause for concern in the Middle East, as the US seems determined to take measures (military or otherwise) to remove President Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Influential international role players have been urging Iraq to consider allowing UN weapons inspectors to return to Iraq, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions, and in order to avoid any pretext for military action. Iraq situates the question of the return of the weapons inspectors in the context of a broader dialogue with the UN, which also addresses obligations for the UN created by UN Security Council resolution 687 and which, according to the Government of Iraq, have not yet been fulfilled.

Effects of the sanctions on civilians and South Africa’s response

Iraq presents itself as a challenge for international diplomacy, not only to the UN Security Council but also, specifically, to countries like South Africa. With a vision of strengthening Afro-Arab co-operation and out of concern for the suffering of the people of Iraq, it was unavoidable for South Africa to engage with Iraq and other Arab states about the consequences of UN sanctions. The Iraqi people remain the unintended victims and chief casualties of the humanitarian disaster, which more than a decade of international sanctions has wrought.

The consequences of this humanitarian disaster have been widely documented and a UNICEF report issued early in 2001 indicated that the effects of sanctions were a directly attributable cause of the deaths of more than 1 million Iraqi children. Additionally, they were responsible for the widespread collapse of extensive Iraqi infrastructure such as hospitals, water, electricity and sewage reticulation systems affecting negatively the lives of millions of ordinary Iraqis, with a consequently massive impact on the public health profile of this nation.

The health crisis in Iraq is intertwined with the general social and economic crises that the sanctions have prompted. The economic, social and cultural rights of the Iraqi people are being swept aside, as are their rights to development and to education. From a once prosperous and developing country, Iraq has been reduced to a struggling nation. As a result of the embargo, the Iraqi currency exchange rate has fallen to unreasonable and unimaginable levels. The prices of food therefore, have soared, increasing by more than 2000%. The sanctions, and particularly the delay in delivery of food and medicines due to the stringent rules to be followed through the Sanctions Committee, have had disastrous effects on the most vulnerable sectors of Iraqi society.

The worst effects of the war and the sanctions that followed can be seen in the mortality rates of infants and children under the age of five. The most conservative statistics cite 1500 infant deaths per month and up to 5000 under-five deaths per month. The infant deaths and deaths immediately after birth are largely due to the malnutrition of mothers. The under-five mortality rate has been attributed to diarrhoea and dysentery as a result of contaminated water and also to birth deformities and the abnormal rise in cancer in children. The use of depleted uranium by the United States on warheads during the Gulf War has reportedly resulted in radioactivity and toxicity that has entered the soil, crops and water, affecting thousands of people.

South Africa, given its national ethos and international responsibilities cannot ignore the human consequences of this disaster. In June 2001, with growing concern for the humanitarian situation in Iraq, South Africa undertook a humanitarian flight, led by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Aziz Pahad. The expedition included representation from civil society, as well as businesspeople interested in establishing trade relations with Iraq.

This decision of the South African Government also to make an effort to assist in relieving the suffering of the Iraqi people followed widespread public concern about the human consequences of sanctions, expressed by such international personalities as the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as well as various former senior United Nations officials responsible for humanitarian relief in Iraq. The Government saw the humanitarian flight to Iraq as a powerful international statement about the unprecedented conditions of human suffering prevalent in Iraq today and the need of the international community to address the causes of this.

The humanitarian consignment collected among South Africans, in addition to much needed items such as milk powder and baby formula, included six tons of medical supplies. The Iraq Action Committee collected the entire consignment among concerned members of the South African public.

The humanitarian flight from South Africa was one of a number of such flights from several countries, inter alia the USA, UK, France, the Russian Federation, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, the Gulf States, Scandinavian countries, Bulgaria, India, Vietnam as well as national and international humanitarian organisations.

South Africa remains committed to efforts to alleviate the suffering of people around the world.

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