On 1 January 2013 South Africa will relinquish control of the African seat on the UN Security Council. For human rights activists around the world it’s presence won’t be missed.
Perhaps prior to the collapse of Apartheid, the prospect of an ANC man sitting at the table and influencing international response to conflict and humanitarian situations across the globe, would have been the ultimate dream. The reality however has been both sordid and abusive.
For South Africa has consistently used its position to back oppressors; from blocking condemnation of ethnic cleansing in Burma, to undermining pressure on Bashar al-Assad as he butchers his own people. Closer to home, successive ANC administrations have supported Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and the indicted War Criminal Omar al-Bashir in Sudan. And when it comes to China and its occupied territories, the decision to deny the Dalai Lama a visa on two separate occasions aptly spelt out the South African government’s unfortunate stance.
It is little wonder therefore that leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have openly criticised the state’s leaders for facilitating and protecting the kind of tyranny they once suffered themselves. Unfortunately, South Africa’s replacement on the council – Rwanda, is unlikely to improve matters.
Paul Kagame’s RPF regime is widely accorded international sympathy, stemming from its role in halting the 1994 genocide, and Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo has suggested that the slaughter will allow Rwanda to bring a “unique perspective” on conflict to the council However, the RPF’s appalling record on human rights and perhaps more significantly on backing brutal rebel groups in the neighbouring DRC, is already raising serious concerns about how Rwandan influence will be used in practice.
Most pressing is a report leaked just twenty-four hours before Rwanda was elected to the seat, confirming that not only equipment and support but direct orders are being given by Kagame’s officials to Bosco Ntaganda’s notorious M23 Rebels. This group is currently destabilising swathes of the DRC through an orgy of massacres, rapes and child soldier recruitment. Now Human Rights Watch has voiced fears that Rwanda’s new position will simply allow the RPF to prevent any sanctions that it may have faced as a result of.its involvement.
The end of South Africa’s poor showing at the council is no bad thing…but the new set up is unlikely to be any better at all.