By Ambassador Dıpuo Letsatsı-Duba - The month of March is celebrated in South Africa and honoured by South Africans, as it serves as a reminder of the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for the attainment of democracy in South Africa. It is also a month where we observe Human Rights Day on 21 March. 

Human Rights Day in South Africa is historically linked with 21 March 1960, and the events of Sharpeville. On that day 69 people died and 180 were wounded when police fired on a peaceful crowd that had gathered in protest against the Pass laws. This day marked an affirmation by ordinary people, rising in unison to proclaim their rights. It became an iconic date in our country’s history that South Africa commemorated as Human Rights Day as a reminder of our rights and the cost paid for our treasured human rights.

In 1948, the United Nations defined 30 articles of human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It established universal human rights based on humanity, freedom, justice, and peace. South Africa has included indivisible human rights in its own Bill of Rights, Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa stand has a representation to the protection and the fundamental importance of these rights to the country.

This Human Rights month holds a special reverence, particularly due to the situation in Ukraine, this year and this time in history should reflect as a monumental turn of history. What we are witnessing playing out in front of our eyes is much like the Covid-19 Pandemic and is significant, as this could literally be the beginning of serious regional conflict, as the world had put the cold war behind it and with it the ideological frameworks that helped frame the conflict.

The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a wake-up call. The world is experiencing its biggest shared test since the Second World War. Humanity faces a stark and urgent choice: breakdown or breakthrough.

The choices we make or fail to make, could result in further breakdown and a future of perpetual crisis or a breakthrough to a better, more sustainable, peaceful future for our people and planet. With the current Russia-Ukraine war, it could be argued that multilateralism is under threat as the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and International Law has been violated.

The war in Ukraine comes after several worrying years to the multilateral system, international norms and laws. Previous governments in the prominent multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations, saw a deterioration in its success, and with it the collective bargaining and negotiation that often depicted and informed the Global order from the mid 90’s to 2010. It is demoralising that amongst all the successes that the world has achieved in the 21st Century this is has to occur, the foundation and backbone of Human Rights has become progress that has come to symbolise our Global Order under the United Nations. It spoke to inclusivity, diversity and a respect for all, irrespective of race, gender or sexual orientation. It was the blueprint for the South African constitution and what we as South Africans Honour during this human rights month.

There is no doubt that a world, without the United Nations as the premier, inclusive multilateral body, would be worse off. The United Nations, now 76 years old, remains the foundation of our multilateral system of governance. No other global organisation gives hope for a better world for so many people.

The United Nations was created, amongst others, to save succeeding generations from the scourge of world wars. It is for this reason that the Charter of the United Nations enjoins all Member States to settle their disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace, security and justice are not endangered. South Africa has consistently made this call and also recently on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

To reiterate our foreign Minister H.E. Naledi Pandor’s recent statement “As a nation birthed through negotiation, South Africa is always appreciative of the potential dialogue has in averting a crisis and de-escalating conflict. In line with our strong commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict, South Africa urges all parties to devote increased efforts to diplomacy and to find a solution that will help avert further escalation.”

This Human Rights Day calls for calm and the remembrance that is only through dialogue and negotiation that all parties can truly come out victorious and we once again call on parties involved to seek a negotiated settlement. 

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