/ 15 January 2007

SA decision on Burma questioned

South Africa's decision to join China and Russia in voting against a UN Security Council resolution has been questioned by the DA.

South Africa’s decision to join China and Russia in voting against a United Nations Security Council resolution — calling on the military junta in Burma to stop human rights abuses, including ethnic killings, rapes and forced labour — has been questioned by the Democratic Alliance (DA).

The motion — put to the council on the weekend — was proposed by the United States.

DA chief whip and foreign affairs spokesperson Douglas Gibson said in a statement on Monday: ”South Africa’s first significant vote since taking up its non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council raises a question — will South Africa ever meet a dictator it does not like?”

Gibson suggested that the decision appeared to be a continuation of South Africa’s ”quiet diplomacy” approach to dictatorships and their human rights abuses.

Gibson noted that South Africa’s UN envoy, Dumisani Kumalo, was at pains to point out that South Africa was indeed concerned about the situation in Burma, but did not feel that a strongly worded resolution was the appropriate way of engaging with the government in that country.

Gibson said while he may have a point in this case, this ”softly-softly” approach brings back uncomfortable memories of previous situations where South Africa should have taken a tough stance against dictatorship, electoral fraud and human rights abuses, but chose instead to adopt a mild line.

”In the case of Zimbabwe, South Africa’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ has been an outright failure, and one wonders when South Africa will realise that Africa and the world is looking to it to lead the way when it comes to taking tough measures against misgovernance on our own back doorstep.”

South Africa’s Security Council vote on Burma ”can only leave those who are campaigning for human rights and good governance with an uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu. Several human rights organisations have expressed alarm and surprise at the way South Africa voted.”

”Our delegation at the UN must be careful not to send the wrong message to the world about where we stand on issues of misgovernance and human rights abuses,” charged Gibson.

Prior to the vote, Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu warned that he would be deeply disappointed if South Africa voted against a non-punitive resolution. He told Business Day that the history of the struggle meant South Africa should side with people ”who are victims of one of the most repressive regimes”.

Tutu and former Czech president Vaclav Havel commissioned a report two years ago that recommended a UN resolution criticising Burma’s military government. — I-Net Bridge