Clinton Nudges South Africa to Play a Responsible International Role
(CNSNews.com) – Although photos of a dancing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made headlines in the United States, she came to South Africa with a serious message, prodding the nation to play a responsible role in the international community.
She challenged South Africa to meet the “higher set of standards” that people expect of nations like South Africa and the United States.
“Americans and South Africans alike pledge ourselves to the proposition that all people everywhere should live with dignity, pursue their dreams, voice their opinions freely, worship as they choose,” Clinton said during a diplomatically-worded but at times subtly challenging speech at Cape Town’s University of the Western Cape.
She alluded to areas of difference in foreign policy, including the question of the balance between promoting democracy and not interfering in other countries’ domestic affairs.
“Right now, many democracies in the global south, including South Africa, are engaged in a vigorous debate,” she said. “On the one hand, they want to promote democratic values and respect for human rights in other nations. But on the other hand, they are wary of intervention that bears on the internal affairs of those other nations.
“Ultimately, we are all called to answer the question about how we live up to these principles that we share, and there are no easy solutions, and one country may not answer that question the same way as another,” Clinton continued.
“But we all have to recognize that anywhere in any place where human rights are abused and democracy – true democracy – denied, the international community must apply pressure to help bring about positive change. No one understands that better than the people of South Africa.”
Clinton implied that the African National Congress government’s tendency to sympathize with regimes that supported the ANC in exile – during the apartheid era – has led to questionable decisions in the past.
“We look to you to help lead the effort to protect universal human rights for everyone,” she said. “When old friends in power become corrupt and repressive, a decision by South Africa to stand on the side of freedom is not a sign that you’re giving up on old allies. It’s a reminder to yourselves and the world that your values don’t stop at your borders.”
South Africa’s voting position at the United Nations has frequently opposed that of the United States, when it comes to resolutions viewed by the State Department as being of particular importance.
Late last year, for instance, South Africa did not support three General Assembly resolutions condemning human rights abuses in Iran, Syria and North Korea.
The three votes were among nine which the administration identified as “issues which directly affected United States interests and on which the United States lobbied extensively” during 2011.
Others included a resolution on the U.S. embargo of Cuba, three dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and one relating to an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.
U.S. law requires the State Department to report to Congress each year on U.N. voting practices, and the report for 2011 shows that South Africa’s voting on those nine issues did not once coincide with the position of the U.S.
That voting record put South Africa into the same category as such repressive regimes as Iran, Syria, Cuba, Burma and North Korea, along with one other democracy, India.
Libya, Zimbabwe, Iran
In the recent past, South Africa has also at times taken a stand against Western initiatives in the U.N. Security Council, where it served as a non-permanent member in 2007-8 and currently again holds a seat for the 2011-12 period.
When the Security Council in March 2011 voted to authorize a no-fly zone over Libya, South Africa voted in favor – but then quickly moved to a position critical of the ensuing NATO mission.
It delayed for a number of weeks a push by the U.S. and Britain for the Security Council to release millions of dollars’ worth of frozen Libyan assets and make them available to anti-Gaddafi rebel leaders.
The Gaddafi regime was a key supporter of the ANC during its three decades in exile.
Other supporters of the then-outlawed ANC included neighboring Zimbabwe after it became independent in 1980. Post-apartheid South Africa for years propped up President Robert Mugabe’s regime economically and diplomatically, and during its previous Security Council term, Pretoria in 2008 sided with China and Russia in opposing a resolution critical of abuses in Zimbabwe.
Regional countries including South Africa eventually helped to broker a power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe that includes the drafting of a new constitution, and in her speech Wednesday, Clinton praised South Africa for its role in that process.
She also brought up Iran, another country which supported the exiled ANC and which South Africa has drawn close to since the political transition in 1994.
When the International Atomic Energy Agency governing board in 2006 voted to refer Iran to the Security Council over its nuclear activities, South Africa abstained, although it did support Security Council resolutions on Iran in 2007 and 2008.
Noting South Africa’s voluntary abandoning of its own nuclear weapons program – a step taken by the National Party government in its waning years in power – Clinton said South Africa “can help ensure that any country that pursues nuclear weapons programs will invite only more pressure and isolation.”
“This means South Africa can play an even greater role on issues like curbing Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons or preventing nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists,” she added.
Clinton noted and welcomed South Africa’s decision to vote last week for a General Assembly resolution, a shift from its abstention when a similar resolution came up for a vote last December.
“I hope this vote can be the foundation for a new level of cooperation on one of the more urgent questions of our time,” she said.
South Africa is considered a strong contender for a permanent Security Council seat, should long drawn-out negotiations aimed at making the U.N.’s top body more representative of the 21st century world ever lead to an agreement.