18 December 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Having served two years as an elected member of the Security Council, South African Ambassador Dumisani S. Kumalo said today he would leave at year’s end assured that Libya, Burkina Faso and Uganda would carry on the “fight” to promote the African agenda and ensure that the continent’s issues were discussed in an in-depth manner.

“I will be cheering them on from the sidelines,” he told reporters at a Headquarters press conference recapping South Africa’s two-year stint as a permanent member of the Council.

Looking back, Mr. Kumalo said that South Africa, during the two months it held the Council Presidency -- April 2008 and March 2007 -- had organized thematic debates that had brought the Council closer to the African Union.  It had also promoted the Council’s African counterpart, the African Union Peace and Security Council.  Further, South Africa’s Presidency co-led the Security Council’s two visits to the continent, marking the first time that such trips had been led to Africa by countries other than former colonial leaders.

Still, he did have some regrets, he said, explaining that, on the Middle East, the Council never succeeded in highlighting the plight of Palestinians.  “It is still a sore point to me that, even when the situation in Gaza was very, very bad, we never could get the Council to even pass a statement.”  To draw out the incongruity of the Council’s decisions, he had reminded delegates that the sewage system in Gaza was broken, and that the Council could not say it was promoting the environment when that situation persisted. 

The most difficult challenge had been in inviting former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to deliver a briefing on what he was doing as Envoy of the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process.  Four months later, he had been told of a possible visit next year, he added.

Progress on Western Sahara had not advanced much either, a matter on which, “you’re up against the permanent members, who want to side only with one side of the issue”.  Regarding Somalia, a breakthrough had been made in recent days, but there was still resistance to a resolution among the “P-5” (“Permanent Five” Council members).  On Zimbabwe, he regretted that steps taken by Zimbabweans to move the country forward had not been acknowledged as much as they could have been, especially given the United Kingdom’s passion about regime change.

Regarding Timor Leste, the area to which South Africa had been assigned, he said he had led a mission there, and looked forward to the country’s continued strength, knowing that his delegation had made a difference.

Taking questions, first on some Council members’ disappointment that South Africa had not championed the same dissident human rights activities in countries, such as Myanmar, that had led to the collapse of apartheid, Mr. Kumalo said that South Africa had refused to serve the interests of the big countries in the Council.  The United Kingdom had wanted South Africa to use the Council “to beat up on Zimbabwe and Myanmar”.   South Africa did not agree with the human rights situation in Myanmar, but the difference was the fact that a Human Rights Council existed to address such issues.

Permanent members set an agenda, he continued.   South Africa’s role, as an elected member, was to remind them “not to get carried away”, or to use the Council to “beat up on the little countries that are not represented”.  If they really cared about human rights, why had none of them raised questions about Guantanamo Bay?  They could not be disappointed in South Africa for being principled, he declared.

Further, the former Human Rights Commission’s report on Western Sahara was critical of Morocco and Sarahawis, and had it been prevented from coming before the Security Council, he said, noting the friendship between “some of the big countries” and one of the parties involved.  Finally, he said to solve the problem in Darfur, Sudan, the Council must work with the Sudanese Government.  “The notion you can help the people of Darfur without the Government of Sudan is ludicrous.”

Asked for thoughts about Security Council resolution 1267 (1999), which establishes sanctions to cover individuals associated with Al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden and/or the Taliban, he said he had always wondered why everyone on the list was named Mohammed.  “Couldn’t you find a Joseph or a Peter,” he asked.   South Africa had been vocal, along with Indonesia and Viet Nam, in saying that, for such lists to work, there should be a mechanism whereby, if people could prove they were not the individuals on the lists, the measures could be retracted.

As to his “behind the scenes” feelings about what it had been like to go up against the George W. Bush Administration, he responded jokingly that “I won’t miss John Bolton,” referring to the former United States Ambassador.  Generally, South Africa’s success had been in dividing the permanent Council members on various issues, in ways that suited its positions.  The “P-5” needed elected members to pass their resolutions, he said.

Describing one instance of collaboration, he said he had worked with current United States Ambassador Zalmay Khalilizad on a United States-proposed resolution condemning rape, and he had urged, adding the phrase “in all its manifestations”, as the act should be condemned wherever it happened.  The United States was up in arms and, when the resolution passed, South Africa had received no credit.  The United States also had the advantage of receiving Secretariat documents more quickly than the South African delegation.  It had been involved for 60 years; South Africa only two.  He clarified in response to a later query, that the proposed resolution had originally addressed rape only in conflict areas.

As to whether South Africa had been used as a “rubber stamp”, and generally had fallen on the side of the bigger Powers, he responded that he had tried to amend resolutions he did not like.  On the resolution on the Middle East adopted a few days ago, he said the Quartet had wanted the text.  All South Africa had wanted in the Middle East was for the parties to speak, which was why, in his Security Council statement, he had read out the affirmations of the Arab Initiative.  At the end of the day, you balance the outcome against what you get out of it.

On a possible breakthrough in Somalia, he said United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had advocated agreeing, in principle, to United Nations peacekeeping.  There would not be blue helmets in Somalia in the next year, but at least there would be a “build up”, and there were African countries willing to send troops.  The Security Council’s creation in 1946 gave the permanent five a special responsibility for addressing peace and security issues, and they must be held accountable.

Responding to a question on France’s proposal to decriminalize homosexuality, which was in the General Assembly today, he said South Africa supported the declaration, but did not wish to be an “evangelist” to countries doing things differently.   South Africa would not sign the declaration –- the tenets had been written into its constitution for 50 years.

As to his hopes for the new United States administration, he responded that changing a president did not necessarily change policy.  He expected the policy to remain the same.  The difference was that President-elect Barak Obama had said he would harness all efforts to address domestic problems.  The United Nations should challenge them on that, as he should use the same reasoning to address issues in Africa, and especially in conflict countries.  He added that the Bush administration was never given credit for its humanitarian work in Africa, which it did “very well”.

Taking a question on the application of “Chapter 7”, especially in the Middle East and Africa, he said the Council would be left to iron out the use of sanctions.  He advocated ending the “Group of Friends” concept, as they were usually “friends” of parties on one side of an issue.  Secondly, expert groups should be “much more sharp”.  The Expert Group on Somalia, for instance, had written reports without having been to the country.

Asked about former colonial Powers possibly covering their colonial interests, he said the former colonial Powers were in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.   China had come to invest in infrastructure throughout Africa.  He did not “hold that against them”.  However, discussing assistance to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire or Somalia should encompass how to bring them results.

Responding to a query about the future of peacekeeping, he said “peacekeeping is in serious trouble”.  Even small countries’ proportionate contribution was becoming heavy in the current financial climate.  “Blue helmets cost a lot of money” and, at some point, decisions must be made as to how to deal with that.  He added that the Council itself was not investing much in conflict prevention.  “You don’t prevent conflict by working with angels,” he said.  “You do it by working with whoever is needed on the ground.”

Regarding South Africa’s successes, he noted that, in Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa had brought President Laurent Gbagbo and the Forces Nouvelles together, and that the country could see a troop reduction following an election.  It had brought Congolese together, which, in turn, had led to an election.  In Burundi, “we went there when no one was there”, and stayed until the United Nations agreed to send a peacekeeping force.  In Zimbabwe, South Africa helped people get to the polls, and had had the idea to place numbers outside of voting tents.  In sum, South Africa’s lifestyle would be guaranteed only with peace among its neighbours.

He added that, if the Security Council wanted to be involved in Zimbabwe, it could do it today by issuing a statement denouncing the humanitarian situation and urging the parties to come together for the sake of national unity.  Also, the United Nations could be involved in humanitarian ways.

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For information media • not an official record