Speech: Chief Human Resources, Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi: opening address: Senior Workshop on International Rules Governing Military Operations (SWIRMO)


Deputy-President of the ICRC, Madam Beerli, the Head of Delegation of the ICRC in South Africa, Mr Pontradolfi, Programme Director on behalf of the SANDF, Maj Gen Mabuza, GOC Training Command, Commandant of the Military Academy, Brig Gen Yam, senior ICRC officials from Geneva and South Africa, class leaders, officers, Warrant Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers of the SANDF, ladies and gentlemen, and perhaps most important of all, participants in the ICRC SWIRMO 2011 feel most welcome to this side of the world to exchange with us your experiences.

Armed conflicts, both international and non-international in nature, confront the world daily with the cruelty, suffering, death and destruction it brings with it, especially for those not in the business of warfighting.

Globally, armed conflicts claimed the lives of close to 100 million people in the 20th century. Naturally, the wide-scale utilization of air power since World War 1, and the development of new weapon systems, made a significant contribution to this reality.

To limit disproportionate destruction in times of Armed Conflict, whilst still allowing fully, for the application of military force, we as commanders and planners and executors of military operations need to know and understand the constraints imposed by the Law of Armed Conflict, and then rigorously implement and adhere to those stipulations.

The Law of Armed Conflict places a duty upon States to respect, and ensure respect, for its underlying legal instruments in all circumstances. This also places a legal responsibility on commanders of forces engaged in military operations to ensure the enforcement of the Law of Armed Conflict in all circumstances.

Appropriate guidance, such as Rules of Engagement, naturally based on the prescripts of law, must be given to subordinates to cover specific circumstances. Such guidance will ensure consistent action and behaviour; and prepare subordinate commanders, especially those in command of independent missions, to take the necessary measures required by the situation.

Article 87 of Protocol One Additional to the Four Geneva Conventions, places upon commanders the responsibility to ensure members under their command are aware of their obligations under the Law of Armed Conflict, to prevent breaches of the Law, and where necessary, to suppress and serve as a punitive measure. This responsibility placed upon, commanders is a personal responsibility, implying that they can be held personally accountable and liable for the conduct of their subordinates.

The SANDF, and indeed your own armed forces, has definite interests in compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict which Inter alia promotes military discipline.

Compliance or non-compliance will have a profound impact upon the national and international reputation of the armed forces we represent. Indeed, compliance has everything to do with the professionalism of our armed forces and States we represent.

The object of war is not only to win the war, but also to ultimately attain peace. It would therefore be folly to focus so much on the military objective, so as to undermine the credibility of a nation once peace is obtained.

In the following days you will undertake an in-depth study of the Law of the Armed Conflict.

You will realise that the Law does not unduly restrict the available options of the disciplined and professional military planner and executor; indeed you will leave the programme with the ability to employ military force, whilst still adhering to the international law governing our conduct.

In this, you will achieve what we as disciplined military professionals ultimately strive for, a balance, a synergy, between the principles of military necessity and humanity.

On behalf of the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, I welcome you to South Africa, the beautiful town of Saldanha and the flagship Academy of the SANDF, and wish you well in your studies and activities that are too follow.

I thank you.