On World UN Day the British High Commissioner to South Africa Antony Phillipson reflects on the value of the UN for the UK and South Africa to achieve shared objectives, while calling on the need for reform to ensure Africa has a proportionate seat at the table.
The United Kingdom and South Africa proudly share fundamental values dedicated to upholding human rights, democracy, peace and security. (Our passion for rugby, on the other hand, is a discussion for another time).
Crucially, both our countries believe in the power of working together, and with other global players, to pursue common principles in these shared areas.
Since 1945 the United Nations has become a key forum for countries like ours to assemble and agree on ways forward. With tensions rising around the world, we need institutions like the UN.
Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression, for instance, is not only a fight for freedom, it is a fight for the principles upon which the UN itself is based. These principles are underpinned by the UN Charter which says that all states’ sovereignty is equal, that territorial integrity is inviolable, and that disputes should be settled peacefully. South Africa and the UK must protect these rights.
The recent indiscriminate, abhorrent acts by Hamas against Israeli citizens is unequivocally condemned by the UK. Hamas does not speak for all Palestinians. The UK’s longstanding position on the Middle East peace process is clear: we support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. Moments like this demonstrate the urgent need to make tangible progress towards this peaceful objective.
The UN plays a critical role in addressing conflicts around the world, and we have seen what it can achieve. Through successful peacekeeping operations including in Africa through missions in Sierra Leone, Burundi and Liberia, the UN has helped to end fighting and foster reconciliation.
Since 1950 fewer people have died in violent conflict than during any comparable period, thanks in part to these initiatives. Through the tireless work of the UN’s World Food Programme, it has contributed to a decrease in those dying from famine. Around the world, the UN has helped provide life-saving vaccinations for children, provided food for 90 million people in more than 76 countries and helped 30 million women a year with maternal health efforts.
Now, one of our greatest challenges is working together to reduce the effect of climate change. Rising sea levels and more frequent floods and droughts are detrimentally affecting the global economy, with the poorest unfairly facing the harshest consequences.
Change is required to help the UN to continue delivering its raison d’être. A priority for the UK is reforming the UN Security Council. We want to see permanent African representation and membership extended to India, Brazil, Germany and Japan. Expansion will enable the security council to reflect a more globalised world.
The UK and South Africa continue to work closely together at the UN, particularly in the human rights space as we approach the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December. In Geneva and New York, we must continue to prevent rollback of reproductive and LGBT rights around the world.
On the global health challenge, the UK recognises the need to drive more equitable access to vaccines, drugs and diagnostics, and is keen to learn the lessons from Covid-19. We will continue to work through the UN World Health Assembly and with South Africa on global health security to ensure pandemic preparedness and response capacity.
Ultimately, the UK and South Africa recognise the importance of economic growth to drive jobs and create prosperity for our people, and are committed to working to create the best possible conditions for people and corporations to do business. The UK-SA trade relationship is a hugely important one — accounting for more than £10.5 billion (about R240 billion) a year and with over £20 billion (about R465 billion) of UK corporate investment supporting growth, jobs and innovation in South Africa. We will continue to work with South Africa to remove barriers to trade, including in critical growth sectors of the future.
Just last week, we announced new support to unlock the potential for processing critical minerals in Africa to create more jobs, enabling sustainable growth and prosperity in South Africa.
Each year, South Africa has one of the highest number of students that travel for further education through the Chevening Scholarship fund, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
The UK is proud to have supported the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Response Fund, implementing the government’s National Strategic Plan on GBV and Femicide, spearheaded by President Cyril Ramaphosa. To date, this has supported more than 100 community-based organisations working to prevent and respond to GBV. We are committed to continuing our work alongside the South Africa government and civil society to prevent and respond to GBV and femicide in South Africa and around the world.
And so on World UN day, we reflect on what we have achieved by working together and how we will continue to work together to face the current global problems. Multilateralism and the reform needed for our institutions are fundamental to that.