South Africa, Africa, and the United Nations Security Council
(Policy Brief No. 10)

This CCR policy brief is based on a policy advisory group seminar held in Somerset West, South Africa, from 13 to 14 December 2011. The meeting took place as South Africa approached the end of the first year of its second two-year term (2011-2012) as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. The seminar focused on: South Africa's role on the UN Security Council; the relationship between the African Union (AU) and the UN Security Council; and the politics and reform of the Council. The policy seminar was held in partnership with the Centre for African Studies at Dalarna University, Sweden, and was made possible through the support of the Open Society Foundation for South Africa (OSF-SA), Cape Town, and the Swedish Embassy in South Africa.
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Updated on the Web: 21 March 2012

While Africa has the right to be sceptical about the West's intentions, it also has a duty to protect Libyan citizens

The bombing of Libya by American, British and French warplanes in implementation of a United Nations-sanctioned "no-fly zone" has caused a storm of controversy across Africa. For Africans to avoid a schizophrenic, ethical dead-end in which the West is criticised for intervening to save lives in Libya and simultaneously condemned for not having intervened when genocide erupted in Rwanda in 1994, it is important to explain the idea of the "responsibility to protect" before untangling the issues involved in Libya. To do this we must draw distinctions between past Western interventions in Egypt (1956) and Iraq (2003).

In the post-Cold War era respected African scholars and statesmen gave prominence to the idea of a "responsibility to protect". Francis Deng, the Sudanese current special adviser to the UN secretary general for genocide prevention, coined the idea of "sovereignty as responsibility" in 1996 and sought to use it to protect populations in danger as the UN special representative for internally displaced persons between 1992 and 2004.

Deng argued that the international community had a duty to protect vulnerable populations and that sovereignty must be judged from the perspective of populations in need and not just according to the views expressed by governments and rebels. Tanzania's Salim Ahmed Salim, the African Union's former mediator in Sudan's Darfur region, has also consistently called for a redefinition of sovereignty in Africa.

Africa's first UN secretary general, Egypt's Boutros Boutros-Ghali, similarly called for an end to absolute sovereignty and backed "humanitarian interventions" in Liberia and Somalia. His Ghanaian successor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Kofi Annan, was also a vociferous proponent of "humanitarian intervention", under whose leadership the UN accepted the idea of "the responsibility to protect" in 2005. Though many African (and other developing country) leaders objected to this idea, fearing that such interventions could be abused by the "great powers" to threaten their sovereignty, the African Union's Constitutive Act of 2000 enunciated one of the most interventionist regimes in the world in cases of human rights abuses and regional instability.

Current events in Libya must thus be assessed in the context of a changing African doctrine to do with the duty to protect citizens from repressive governments, though this idea has been inconsistently applied in cases such as Zimbabwe and Africans still largely lack the military capacity to enforce a Pax Africana. Nevertheless, regional efforts in Sierra Leone and Burundi, as well as UN peacekeeping efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, have represented limited efforts to promote a "responsibility to protect".

In October 1956 Israel, followed by Britain and France, invaded Egypt after the country's charismatic leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser (ironically, the role model of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi) nationalised the Suez Canal, in which London and Paris were the majority shareholders. This was an amateurish plot by two declining European imperial powers acting like international gangsters.

The assumption was that, as in colonial days, a compliant puppet regime could be installed once Nasser had been overthrown. The British and French seemed to have forgotten that the old European world of "gunboat diplomacy" had been replaced by a bipolar world dominated by two superpowers in Washington and Moscow. American economic and political pressure on its Western allies finally forced them to disgorge their stolen goods. A blind hatred of Nasser — akin to the enraged reaction to an "uppity native" who had the temerity to tweak the tail of an imperial lion — clouded British Prime Minister Anthony Eden's judgment, whereas Paris was blinded by Nasser's support for the Algerian freedom fighters.

The present Western intervention in Libya is different from the Suez crisis in that the 15-member UN Security Council (including its three African members, South Africa, Nigeria, and Gabon) mandated the operation, which had earlier been requested by the Arab League. Though African discomfort has subsequently been expressed about the UN not having approved "regime change" in Tripoli, as well as genuine concern about innocent civilian deaths resulting from Western bombing, Gaddafi's killing of scores of his own citizens justifies the UN approving this intervention. The Libyan strongman had earlier thumbed his nose at AU efforts to find a diplomatic solution.

Africa must support efforts to rein in Gaddafi and his army, while keeping a vigilant eye on those enforcing the no-fly zone. This applies particularly to France, which has traditionally sent gendarmes to Africa in pursuit of parochial interests, allowing génocidaires to escape from Rwanda in 1994 and, more recently, supporting autocrats such as Chad's Idriss Déby. Working through its representatives on the UN Security Council, Africa must try to ensure that Libyan civilians do not become victims of Western "collateral damage" and that neo-imperial temptations are avoided in the oil-rich country.

In what most of the world regarded as the illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the war-mongering United States president George Bush (backed by his British ally, Tony Blair) sent troops into Iraq without the authorisation of the UN Security Council. This invasion was based on the lie that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

The Iraqi fiasco undermined the authority of the UN, an organisation historically viewed with great reverence by African states. The American "mad dog" and its British "poodle" were widely seen to have behaved like Wild West outlaws. In spite of clumsy efforts to depict Saddam (a Western ally until "the thief of Baghdad" tried to steal Kuwait in 1990) as a new Hitler, even US allies such as France and Germany strongly opposed this foolish invasion. African leaders were almost unanimous in expressing opposition to the intervention. The fact that no weapons of mass destruction were found, that American companies benefited handsomely from restoring Iraq's oil industry and that more than 100 000 Iraqi civilians died after the invasion led to a total discrediting of this intervention.

The Iraqi debacle (opposed at the time by current US President Barack Obama) explains Washington's current reticence — even as it struggles to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan — at getting drawn into a Libyan quagmire.

There are thus clear differences between Iraq and Libya. In Iraq the UN Security Council refused to sanction the intervention and the US, in particular, was seen as pursuing a hidden agenda. Based on Africa's own evolving norms to do with protecting civilians from oppressive regimes and the UN Security Council's support for the present actions in Libya, Africans should back this multilateral intervention. We must, however, remain vigilant about hidden agendas. We should ensure that the UN is able to hold the interveners accountable, that rebel actions against civilians also be monitored and that the AU and the Arab League continue to be closely consulted. Only through such efforts can the ghosts of Suez and Iraq, now hovering over Libya, be banished.

Dr Adekeye Adebajo is the executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town, and the author of The Curse of Berlin: Africa After the Cold War


Libyan crisis raises questions over UN Security Council, writes Antonia Porter

The principles underlying South Africa's foreign policy have been debated widely recently after the country's early and strong support for UN Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on, and authorising military action against, Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya, after heightened attacks by government forces on rebels there.

Pretoria joined two votes at the world body's executive: the first, UN Resolution 1970, slapped Tripoli with an arms embargo, referred its government to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, and froze its leaders' assets; the second, UN Resolution 1973, permitted "all necessary measures" to enforce a no-fly zone and protect Libyan civilians under attack.

Many diplomats have praised the position South Africa adopted.

Thomas Wheeler, research associate at the SA Institute of International Affairs, and former chief director for global security and disarmament in the then Department for Foreign Affairs, told a meeting on the issue held by the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town last week that Pretoria's decision had contributed to an unprecedented unanimity at the recent Security Council meeting.

He said that the move could allay future criticisms of South Africa's role on the executive body that may emerge later in its present two-year term (2011/12) on the council.

However, other policy analysts have highlighted the limits that constrain South Africa's role on the council and the importance of adopting a nuanced approach that seeks to tackle conflict effectively — rather than merely grandstand under the banner of protecting human rights.

While acknowledging the importance of the recent Security Council decision on Libya, Dumisani Kumalo, CEO of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation and former South African permanent representative to the UN, cautioned the Cape Town meeting that, regardless of the resolution, "Gaddafi is still killing people".

Kumalo emphasised that the Security Council will face a challenging term — highlighting what he described as the prospect of civil war in Ivory Coast — and defended decisions made by South Africa during its previous two-year term (2007/08), when it controversially opposed proposed sanctions on the military junta in Burma/Myanmar and President Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe.

The past and present decisions made by Pretoria at the UN Security Council have raised key questions about South Africa's foreign policy: when to support intervention in another country and when to oppose it; when to focus on human rights issues; and when to promote solidarity between developing countries in the face of fundamentally unequal global power relations.

Kumalo maintained that the South African vetoes in 2007 and 2008 simply reflected the positions of the South African people and government.

Acknowledging the importance of human rights, but not its precedence over other constitutional values, Kumalo argued that the cases of Myanmar and Zimbabwe should simply have been dealt with in different forums such as the UN Human Rights Council.

In relation to South Africa's northern neighbour, he added that "the solution lies among the people of Zimbabwe".

Wheeler, by contrast, dryly mocked the alliance that South Africa had forged with Russia and China — "those great paragons of human rights" — on the Myanmar issue. He described the decision to oppose sanctions on Myanmar as "a public relations disaster" for Pretoria. South Africa's vetoes had been cast as part of a greater African project that "downplays human rights in favour of a unified Africa", he told the meeting, which was chaired by Zohra Dawood, executive director at the Open Society Foundation, Cape Town.

Another area of tension in foreign policy that has been explored after the recent sanctions against Libya is the precise nature of Pretoria's position on the ICC.

At Cape Town's public dialogue, Nicole Fritz, executive director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, contrasted South Africa's decision to back referral of Libya to the court with its support for requests made to the Security Council to defer ICC indictments against Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and six Kenyan politicians.

Kumalo sought to defend the apparent contradiction by arguing that short-term justice may not be sufficient to achieve longer-term peace. A balance must always be struck between peace and justice. He argued that suspending ICC judgments was not the same as supporting impunity.

Notwithstanding the differences of opinion on the significance of what Wheeler derisively referred to as the "African consensus" in international affairs, the importance of reforming the 15-member UN Security Council to allow improved representation from the global south has become generally accepted. Africa and Latin America are the only regions without permanent membership on the council.

However, both Wheeler and Kumalo saw few prospects of such reform.

Kumalo expressed doubt that the veto-wielding permanent five (P-5) members of the Security Council — the UK, France, Russia, China and the US — would ever voluntarily relinquish their grip on permanent representation there.

He also cautioned that the UN was unlikely to accede to the demand for two permanent seats for Africa and two additional rotating seats to add to its existing three, which was made by the African Union's Ezulwini Consensus, a 2005 declaration on UN reform.

The most realistic outcome would be a seat for only one African country, Kumalo told the meeting.

Kumalo stressed the importance of restructuring the Security Council to restrict the influence of the P-5, "who abuse their power, all of them".

He recalled a 72-hour meeting he had chaired to produce the outcome document of the 2005 UN reform summit. Important language on disarmament, supported by Japan and Germany, among others, had been agreed after a long debate.

However, a few hours later, when the document was presented to the 192-member General Assembly convened to adopt it, the language had disappeared — deleted, without consultation, at the behest of Washington.

The Sisyphean nature of the task of creating a truly representative and effective Security Council has continued to worry many diplomats.

Wheeler noted that the best role that the Security Council may hope to play is "to create values", as the UN is often unable to implement its own decisions.

Kumalo emphasised the continued defiance of the Libyan authorities in the face of sanctions.

The question arises: does the UN Security Council genuinely protect international peace and security in the real world?

Antonia Porter is a project officer at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town.

PDF of article from The Star »

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Preventing Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect: Challenges for the UN, Africa, and the International Community
(Seminar Report No. 25)

This report is based on a policy advisory group meeting held by the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR), the International Peace Institute (IPI) and the Office of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (SAPG), in Stellenbosch, South Africa, from 13-15 December 2007. The meeting brought together senior figures from the UN, regional organisations, governments, academia, and civil society to discuss issues of concern regarding effective and timely international responses to situations in which populations were threatened by genocide, war crimes, "ethnic cleansing" or crimes against humanity.
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Posted to the Web: 10 September 2008

Africa's Responsibility to Protect
(Seminar Report No. 19)

CCR's latest report captures the debates of the seminar, "Africa's Responsibility to Protect", which took place on 23 and 24 April 2007 in Somerset West, Cape Town, South Africa. The report addresses the "responsibility to protect" principle –– the legal and ethical commitment by the international community to protect citizens from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and/or ethnic cleansing. The degree to which the "responsibility to protect" citizens has been adhered to by national governments within and outside the continent is assessed; and experiences and lessons from recent conflicts in Africa are reviewed and analysed.
File type: PDF (1.66MB)
Posted to the Web: 15 November 2007

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