Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor addresses the United Nations Security Council. File picture: Craig Ruttle/AP

South Africa has reason to be proud of its accomplishments as President of the UN Security Council for the month of October, and was largely seen by other members as a bridge builder committed to building consensus. Our much celebrated achievement was putting the issue of women’s involvement in peace and security initiatives around the world firmly on the Council’s agenda. 

As President of the Council, South Africa steered through UNSC Resolution 2493 on the need to strengthen the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda. The resolution was adopted unanimously in a rare display of unity of purpose, in a Council starkly divided on issues of peace and security.

South Africa capitalised on its opportunity as the lead nation on the Council for a month to call for the meaningful participation of women in all levels of peace processes, increasing the number of women in uniformed and civilian components of peacekeeping operations, investing in women as peacebuilders, such as in mediation and negotiation, protecting the human rights of women - particularly sexual and reproductive health rights, and advancing accountability for heinous crimes such as sexual violence. 

Minister for International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor was clear that there is a need to strengthen reporting requirements and support for women and children in conflict situations. “We insisted on this because women from diverse contexts across the world continue to face obstacles and resistance, they continue to bear the brunt of armed conflict and their personal, economic, civil and political security is persistently undermined,” Pandor said. The Center for Reproductive Rights has praised South Africa’s leadership, commending the South African government for its commitment to the rights of women and girls, and in particular, their sexual and reproductive health and rights during its presidency of the Council. 

South Africa views the Women, Peace and Security agenda as a means for women to mediate in conflict situations, and as essential to end the use of force as a means of settling disputes. South Africa managed to put a human face on women’s suffering, by bringing women’s voices to various roundtables, who shared moving stories of their survival after being held by rebel militias, raped, and forced to flee. Women from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Burundi and Sudan spoke of their pain, hopes and expectations. 

There was so much interest on the part of Council members in the debate on Women, Peace and Security that the UK, which assumed the presidency of the council on November 1st, has agreed to allocate time this month for the debate to be concluded as not all members got to speak. South Africa has indicated that it will ensure there is follow up on the implementation of the resolution, especially when it is Chair of the African Union next year, and hopes to hold a special session on the subject at the AU Peace and Security Council.

South Africa also played an instrumental role in ensuring that Burundi remains on the agenda of the UN Security Council, which is critically important given the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, and official repression of the opposition and Tutsi minority in the country. As President of the Council, South Africa was able to provide a platform for the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Burundi, former President Michel Kafando, to present the Secretary General’s written report, which constitutes the first written report on Burundi this year. The last time the Special Envoy addressed the Council was in February this year. 

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi documented in its September report the existence of a climate of fear and intimidation of all persons who do not show their support to the ruling party, the CNDD-FDD. Members of its youth league, the “Imbonerakure”, agents of the National Intelligence Service and of the police, and local authorities continue to commit serious human rights violations against Burundi citizens. The report describes how the Imbonerakure have carried out killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, acts of torture and ill-treatment and rape against actual or alleged political opposition members. The Commission found that this alarming violence is fueled by the widespread impunity that prevails in Burundi.

The October UNSC briefing on Burundi was a great win for South Africa, as the country continues to call for better coordination between the Security Council and the work of African regional organizations that have been mandated to deal with conflict areas on the continent.  

South Africa also effectively used its Presidency to slam the UN Security Council for its inaction on Palestine, with Minister Pandor calling its failure to secure Palestinian freedom a “profound stain” against the stated mission and objectives of the Council. Pandor specifically lambasted UNSC members for failing to implement Resolution 2334 of 2016, which demands that Israel cease illegal settlement construction. “We lose credibility as an institution when words are not accompanied by action,” Pandor told member states. Pandor says that the Council must insist on regular written reports on the implementation of its decisions, and show solidarity with the people of Palestine by conducting the long overdue field visit to the occupied territories. 

* Shannon Ebrahim is the group foreign editor for Independent Media