This is South Africa’s moment on the UN Security Council to be the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves - those tens of thousands of civilians being targeted in civil wars while the big powers turn a blind eye. Picture: UN Photo/Loey Felipe via AP

Johannesburg - This is South Africa’s moment on the UN Security Council to be the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves - those tens of thousands of civilians being targeted in civil wars while the big powers turn a blind eye, or participate in the carnage.  We have already served six months of a two year term as a non-permanent member on the Council, and this week our government officials have been engaging in introspection as to whether we are leveraging our role on the Council effectively, and maintaining our values in international relations.  

As a middle power, South Africa may not be able to directly impact on ending many of these conflicts, but occupying a seat at the table of the apex body charged with maintaining peace and security is both meaningful and powerful. It is a chance for South Africa to be a voice of conscience in the international community, and put forward robust arguments on how to silence the guns in Africa by the end of 2020, and also how to resolve intractable conflicts in the Middle East. 

South Africa has not squandered this opportunity over the past six months to raise its voice on important issues of international peace and security, such as the need to protect the sovereignty of Venezuela in the face of efforts at regime change, and to end the unjust economic embargo of Cuba. 

The world is currently faced with the spectre of a devastating war with Iran given the war mongering continuing in the US administration, particularly by the US National Security Advisor John Bolton. South Africa needs to be increasingly vocal within the Council on the need for all parties to adhere to the tenets of the nuclear deal, which was the product of years of painstaking negotiations between the world’s big powers. 

Just as our Deputy Minister for International Relations Alvin Botes said in the recent Non-Aligned Meeting in Caracas, the JCPOA was an important diplomatic achievement in terms of preserving non-proliferation, and there needs to be full cooperation to ensure the durability and sustainability of the nuclear deal with Iran. 

South Africa has an important opportunity in the Council to argue that all signatories to the nuclear deal need to respect the commitments made, and call for the US to reverse its decision to walk away from the deal. The UN Security Council cannot allow any of the big powers to pursue unilateral military action against Iran, unless we are prepared to see the Middle East region engulfed in a war of unprecedented proportions that will have devastating effects on the global economy.

South Africa needs to continue its robust statements in the Council on violations of human rights and international law in Palestine in the face of continued illegal settlement building, home demolitions, and attacks on civilians. 

South Africa also has an opportunity to maintain the focus of the Council on the catastrophic humanitarian emergency in Yemen, which has seen far in excess of 85,000 children under the age of five die of starvation since the conflict began. The fact that the UN Security Council has taken no action to stop the bombardment by the Saudi-led coalition of hospitals, schools, marketplaces, and residential areas is an indictment of the world body’s commitment to ensure human security and protect civilians in armed conflict. 

The fact that at least two permanent members of the Council are providing support to such an air campaign is something the Council needs to discuss urgently. If such debates are squashed by the very powers that are complicit in supporting such military action, then the need to drastically reform the composition of the Council becomes all the more urgent.

* Shannon Ebrahim is the Group Foreign Editor