Opening Address by Director-General, Mr KE Mahoai at the six month review workshop of South Africa’s Term as an Elected Member of the United Nations Security Council, 25- 26 July 2019
Representatives of Departments,
I wish to welcome you the opening session of the six-month review workshop of South Africa’s term as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council.
At the end of June 2019, South Africa completed its first six months of its twenty-four month term as an elected member of the Security Council.
South Africa was elected as a member of the Security Council by an overwhelming number of member states in June last year. This election followed the endorsement of our candidature by the Southern African Group at the UN and the African Union.
We are serving on the Council for third time in twelve years. We are one of the few countries that have been afforded the privilege of serving on the Council so often in quick succession. This is testament of the confidence that the international community and countries on our Continent have in our ability to play a meaningful role in the maintenance of international peace and security.
South Africa entered the Security Council during a period in which the global environment is undergoing complex and unchartered changes. This includes concerted challenges to multilateralism and a rules-based international order. Key global players have pursued a stronger domestic focus and with less of an appetite for dealing with global peace and security, development or human rights matters unless it is linked to their own self-interest.
We have seen a move by some to undermine collective multilateral action aimed at improving our world. Hard fought gains that we have made in the last few years on peace and security and development are being threatened.
This has made it more difficult to respond to transnational challenges. We must recognise that states are interdependent and even the most powerful countries cannot achieve security, nor maintain prosperity and ensure sustainable development for their people by acting unilaterally or in isolation.
The Security Council, as the international body entrusted with global peace and security, has become a theatre where geopolitical tensions manifest themselves. As a result, the Council has not been able to act in cases where it should, such as in Palestine or effectively in Syria.
During the first six months of South Africa’s term, the agenda of the Council has included contentious and complex issues, such as the outcome of the first democratic handover of power in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the complicated internal situation in Venezuela. The Council has also been seized with long standing issues such as the situation in Western Sahara and Palestine; protracted and deadly conflicts in Syria and Yemen; the drawdown of the AU/UN Mission in Darfur, as well as the UN authorised AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). More recently, we have also had to grapple with the complications arising from new crises such as in Khartoum and the flaring up of military conflict in Libya.
This review workshop is aimed at considering whether South Africa was able to implement the priorities and objectives it set itself upon entering the Council, within the context and the challenges the country has encountered in the first six months of its term.
Over the next two days, we intend to analyse the challenges and opportunities of being in the Council, including Council dynamics; strategise on how South Africa could navigate the remainder to its term on the Council; and finalise preparations for the upcoming South African Presidency of the Council in October 2019.
South Africa’s theme for its term on the Council is: “Continuing the Legacy: Working for a Just and Peaceful World”. This resonates with the legacy of President Nelson Mandela whose values and commitment to peace were commemorated in 2018 during the centenary of his birth.
We have been using our time on the Council over the last six months to emphasise the importance of a more proactive approach to the maintenance of international peace and security, particularly in the form of drawing greater attention to preventative diplomacy mechanisms, as well as post-conflict reconstruction and development.
We are also emphasising the role of women in the resolution of conflict. South Africa is thus promoting the mainstreaming of a gender perspective into all Security Council resolutions in line with Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security.
As you are aware, the African Union committed to ending conflicts and silencing the guns on the Continent by the year 2020. Serving on the UN Security Council also affords South Africa an opportunity to meaningfully contribute towards this goal. In this regard, South Africa is continuing to work towards strengthening the cooperation between the UN Security Council and regional organisations in terms of Chapter 8 of the UN Charter. South Africa’s efforts can be bolstered by the fact that the country will be chairing the African Union in 2020.
The questions that we must consider during our deliberations today are: (i) whether we are leveraging our role in the Council, as a country that has undergone our own transition and as a country that has and continues to play a role in conflict resolution? (ii) Are we able to make a meaningful contribution to the work of the Council, despite the constraints of being an elected member? And importantly (iii), are we able to maintain our values in carrying out our mandate?
This is our third time in the Council. Have we taken on board the lessons learnt from our past experiences and are we able to improve on our past performance and be a responsible and member of the Council that is actively contributing to the maintenance of international peace and security?
We have just under 18 months left of our term. This Review Workshop provides us with an opportunity to answer these questions and consider our role in the remaining period. The global landscape is becoming even more complex. The spectre of devastating war, as tensions escalate in some parts of the world, looms over us. How we react when we are confronted with these challenges at the Council will be the test of our resolve to make a meaningful contribution to global peace.
We will be presiding over the Council in October and again late next year. We must consider what are the opportunities that these Presidencies will bring? This workshop is an opportunity to consider our approach during our Presidency of the Council and which issues we would want to highlight.
One of the recommendations emanating from the reviews of our experience in the first two terms we served on the Council was to increase our engagement with civil society, academia and the media. In this context, we have made a concerted effort during this term to ensure that we do just that. Thus, over the last few months, we have increased this engagement, including sharing our statements and positions so as to explain our approach to issues on the Council’s agenda.
I am therefore pleased that we will be having an engagement with civil society later today to ensure that we hear from them on their assessment of our term thus far and also their recommendations for the remainder of our term.
In conclusion, I wish to reaffirm statement of Nelson Mandela who eloquently articulated South Africa’s post-Apartheid foreign policy in his seminal paper in 1993, namely that “South Africa's future foreign relations will be based on our belief that human rights should be the core concern of international relations, and we are ready to play a role in fostering peace and prosperity in the world we share with the community of nations”.
In pursuit of the theme informing of South Africa’s current term on the Council, these sentiments must guide our activities and interventions for the remainder of our term on the Council.
Please allow me to wish you well in your deliberations during the next two days.
I thank you.