In yet another act of diplomatic ‘neutrality’, South Africa abstained from a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Russia for its holding of referendums in four occupied Ukrainian provinces last month before annexing them to Russia.
Wednesday’s United Nations General Assembly vote means South Africa has abstained from every UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, including one in April when Russia was suspended from the UN Human Rights Council.
The resolution debated on Wednesday whether to condemn Russia’s “illegal so-called referendums” in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia” and its “attempted illegal annexation” of them was carried by the necessary two-thirds majority of UN members, with 143 votes for, five against and 35 abstentions.
The resolution stated that the referendums held in the four regions from 23 to 27 September 2022 while they were partly under the temporary military control of Russia and the subsequent attempted illegal annexation of these regions, “have no validity under international law and do not form the basis for any alteration of the status of these regions of Ukraine”.
It noted that the regions had been “under the temporary military control of the Russian Federation, as a result of aggression, in violation of the sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine…”
The resolution also noted that Russia’s actions violated Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations which obliges UN members to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state and to settle all international disputes peacefully.
South Africa’s ambassador to the UN, Mathu Joyini, in her explanation of the country’s decision to abstain, said that South Africa considered the territorial integrity of Ukraine to be “sacrosanct” and rejected any action of a state which violated the UN Charter.
Reasons why South Africa abstained
However, Joyini said that South Africa had abstained from the resolution because some elements of it did not contribute towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. She said Pretoria called for a cessation of hostilities and urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to mediate in the conflict and the UN Security Council to play a constructive role in ending it.
“South Africa is deeply concerned by the ongoing war in Ukraine, the increased loss of life and the deteriorating humanitarian situation. The detrimental effects of this war are also being felt all over the world. We urge parties to the conflict to fully respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Civilians, humanitarian personnel, vulnerable persons, including women and children, must be fully protected.
“South Africa considers the territorial integrity of States, including that of Ukraine, to be sacrosanct and we reject all actions that undermine the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter, and International Law. We have noted the statement of the UN secretary-general, Mr António Guterres, when he said that, “any annexation of a State’s territory by another resulting from the threat of or the use of force is a violation of the Principles of the UN Charter and International Law”.
“We abstained on the resolution because we believe that the objective of this Assembly in keeping with its mandate must always be to contribute to a constructive outcome conducive to the creation of sustainable peace in Ukraine. Unfortunately, some elements of the resolution do not address this. In the context of the heightened tensions in recent days, all efforts should be geared towards a ceasefire and a political solution.
“We therefore expected that any additional resolutions would focus on concrete proposals to end the war which is exacting such a heavy toll on the people of Ukraine. South Africa remains steadfast that dialogue, mediation and diplomacy is the only path that will lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. We reiterate our call for a cessation of hostilities as a matter of urgency. This would create the necessary environment required for a political process leading to sustainable peace, taking into account the concerns of all affected States.
“We therefore call on the UN Secretary-General to use his Good Offices to mediate in pursuit of finding a sustainable solution and for us as Member States to facilitate an enabling environment for dialogue and a negotiated solution to the conflict. South Africa stands ready to work with all member states to contribute to the creation of this conducive environment.
“We urge the UN Security Council to play a constructive role in the resolution of this conflict, in line with its mandate for the maintenance of international peace and security. The Council cannot abandon its responsibility during this time.”
South Africa’s China and India partners in the BRICS bloc also abstained while Brazil voted for the resolution. Russia of course voted against the resolution. Thirty African countries voted for it and none against, while 19 abstained and five did not vote. It was the highest vote by African countries for a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia for its attack on Ukraine.
Possible bid lobbying by the West to isolate Russia
The Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzya claimed that the US and other Western powers had exerted enormous pressure on developing states to support the resolution, including threats to withdraw economic support. While there is no evidence for this, it is true that Western nations lobbied hard for South Africa and other African states to support the resolution.
Nebenzya also accused the West of double standards, saying that it had supported the independence of Kosovo from Serbia without testing the opinion of its people as Russia had tested the opinions of the people of the four Ukrainian provinces in its referendums last month.
He claimed that all the referendums had shown overwhelming support for incorporation into Russia — ranging between 87% and 99% for the four regions — with large voter turnout ranging from 76% to 99%. Ukrainian officials and independent observers — as well as several speakers in Wednesday’s debate — said however that voters had placed their ballots under military intimidation and that the voter turnout had been extremely low.
But in any case, they noted that Russia had no legal right to hold referendums of this sort in a foreign country.
Sources Daily Maverick