South Africa's foreign policy & human rights colloquium

30 Nov 2009 - 13:47

The DGRU hosted a Roundtable Colloquium on the subject of South Africa's foreign policy and human rights on the 25th November, 2009.11.30

It is sixteen years since Nelson Mandela wrote his famous article for Foreign Policy, in which he offered a blueprint for a humane and human-cantered foreign policy. Now is a time for reflection on those ideas. South Africa has entered a dynamic new period of governance and policy-making under the Zuma presidency. Under the new administration, there is the promise of significant policy departure from the Mbeki government's foreign relations policy. South Africa, under Mbeki, increasingly viewed human rights as an internal matter within a country. This often conservative position failed to address the violation of human rights worldwide due to its taking up of a neutral stance on human rights violations.

During the Mbeki administration, South Africa's human rights reputation became debatable for numerous reasons. Firstly, Mbeki was often accused of being friendly with African dictators. For example, Mbeki's position on engagement with Zimbabwe in the face of massive human rights violations was internationally regarded as an unwelcome failure of South Africa's principled stance on human rights. Secondly, 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 was highly criticized.

There seems, under the new administration, to be space for a new engagement and discourse around the strategy that should inform South Africa's foreign policy choices.

Participants at the Roundtable discussed South Africa's foreign policy and explored the following set of questions:

  • In the context of South Africa's track record on the Security Council, how should we understand South Africa's policy goals and its positions on human rights resolutions?
  • What is the balance between South Africa's 'great power' aspiration to sit on the Security Council and its progressive goals?
  • How and can South Africa's foreign policy actively promote human rights both regionally and globally?
  • What is the relationship between South Africa's extraordinary constitution and its 'ordinary' foreign policy?
  • What are the human rights pros and cons of South Africa's refusal to grant the Dalai Lama a visa in early 2009?

Read a report on the Roundtable.