While the death toll in Syria continues to rise, South Africa’s representatives in the United Nations (UN) Security Council have once again abstained from voting in support of decisive UN action in Syria. Once again, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) is allowing autocratic regimes with poor human rights records to dictate South Africa’s foreign policy.
After recognising yesterday that the violence in Syria is “spinning out of control”, South Africa has yet again abstained from voting on the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution aiming at de-escalating conflict in Syria.
UN action was effectively neutered by vetoes from Russia and China. By abstaining from the vote, South Africa has sided with its fellow BRICS members. While the Syrian people are being bombed by their own government and the increasing armament of both the government forces and rebel groups has turned the Syrian conflict into an international security crisis, South Africa chose to remain on the fence.
DIRCO defends this decision by claiming that the world requires a “balanced” intervention which recognises the wrongdoings of all parties to the conflict and paves the way for negotiation.
The proposed UN resolution stipulated a deadline for an end to the use of heavy weapons, called for the withdrawal of Syrian forces from towns and cities and proposed sanctions should this deadline not be met. The dream of a negotiated settlement will never be realised without more decisive initial steps to de-escalate the violence.
South Africa should not be caught on the wrong side of history again, as with our infamous flip-flop on Libya. In abstaining from this vote, we are losing credibility as a country which believes in human rights and a just international order and we are alienating the West and Arab League nations more directly affected by the Syrian conflict.
Instead of using our position as a member of BRICS to encourage China and Russia to do the right thing, we are being caught in the slipstream of their bad decisions. Our association with China and Russia in this regard will undermine our legitimacy in the UN Security Council and could derail our efforts to reform this structure to the benefit of smaller and developing nations.
DIRCO fence-sitting raises questions about our capacity to make tough decisions that may offend some of our more dubious friends.