Ramaphosa defends SA stance at UN on Russia/Ukraine conflict


Responding to criticism of South Africa’s abstention from voting in last week’s United Nations (UN) General Assembly Russia/Ukraine vote, President Cyril Ramaphosa said it was “because the resolution did not foreground the call for meaningful engagement”.

The weekly “From the Desk of the President” missive confines itself to the world body and the ongoing invasion, termed “a military operation” by Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin.

Ramaphosa starts off writing: “In a world where far too many disputes between and within countries are settled through the barrel of a gun, the view that differences are best resolved through negotiation, dialogue and compromise may seem out of touch and even fanciful”.

He continues saying South Africa attained democracy through a negotiated settlement and the country “remains steadfast in the conviction that achieving world peace through negotiation and not force of arms is attainable”.

“This is a principle we have been consistent on since the advent of our democracy and which remains an important part of our foreign policy orientation.

“Even prior to the resolution being passed at the UN, talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials had started. South Africa expected the UN resolution would foremost welcome commencement of dialogue between the parties and seek to create conditions for talks to succeed. Instead, the call for peaceful resolution through political dialogue was relegated to a single sentence close to the conclusion of the final text. This does not provide the encouragement and international backing the parties need to continue with their efforts.

“Calling for peaceful negotiation is aligned with values on which the UN was founded. We are particularly concerned that the UN Security Council was unable to discharge its responsibility to maintain peace and security. This gives impetus to longstanding calls for Security Council reform to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

“The UN Charter enjoins member states to settle disputes by peaceful means in the first instance, stating explicitly parties to any dispute should first seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and similar mechanisms. Since the outbreak of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, South Africa’s position has been to affirm this call.

“There have been some who said abstaining from the vote condemning Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, South Africa placed itself on the wrong side of history. South Africa is firmly on the side of peace at a time when another war is something the world does not need, nor can it afford. The results of these hostilities will be felt globally for many years to come.

“A cessation of hostilities may indeed be achieved through force of arms or economic pressure, but would be unlikely to lead to a sustainable and lasting peace.

“Historical tensions between Russia and Ukraine make it all the more important that whatever agreements are brokered are sustainable in the long run and address the concerns of both parties to the conflict.

“Our own experience with ending apartheid and our country’s role in mediating conflict elsewhere on the continent yielded a number of insights.

“The first is that even the most seemingly intractable differences can be resolved at the negotiating table. The second is even as talks may collapse, they can and do resume, as was the case in our own negotiating process. And that when it seems the parties cannot see eye to eye, breakthroughs can and do happen.

“That we continue to support the call for negotiation and dialogue does not render our commitment to human rights any less. Since the outbreak of the conflict we expressed concern at the impact of the conflict on civilians believing war is not the solution to conflict and leads to human suffering.

“Our country is committed to advancing the human rights and fundamental freedoms not only of our own people, but for the people of Palestine, Western Sahara, Afghanistan, Syria and across Africa and the world.

“It is our hope that negotiations between Russia and Ukraine yield positive outcomes that pave the way for an end to the conflict.”