SA cautions against attacking Syria


6 September 2013

Military intervention in Syria would have serious consequences, plunging an already volatile region into deeper conflict, the South African government has warned.

Pretoria is of the view that a military attack would put peace and security in the entire region in danger and close the door on a political solution.

“We are concerned that the use of chemical weapons, as deplorable as it is, will detract from the larger picture of finding a sustainable resolution to the conflict in Syria, which should remain the primary focus of the international community,” International Relations and Cooperation Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim said on Friday.

Speaking to reporters in Pretoria on current international developments, Ebrahim said the approach to the Syrian situation should be guided by the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

“The UN Charter, which is the supreme standard of international law, is clear that only the United Nations Security Council can mandate the use of military force, and only if other measures are deemed insufficient in bringing about a peaceful resolution of a conflict situation.”

Condemning the use of chemical weapons, Ebrahim said Pretoria’s stance on prohibiting the use of chemical weapons was consistent and clear, but that conclusions on Syria should not be made prior to the release of the investigation results.

The biomedical and environmental samples collected by the Swedish scientist Doctor Åke Sellstrom and his team at sites in Syria where chemical weapons were allegedly used on 21 August, have now arrived at four laboratories in Europe for analysis.

The scientists are working “around the clock” to ensure a rapid result that also respects the highest professional standards and without compromising its integrity, according to the UN.

Once the results are available, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon would report them “promptly” to the Security Council and all 193 UN Member States.

Ebrahim said the report of the UN inspectors was vital in this regard and that its findings should be thoroughly examined for an acceptable way forward.

“The UN Inspectors are uniquely placed to independently establish the facts in an objective and impartial manner,” he said, stressing that the investigators’ final report should be the basis for a decision.

He said South Africa believed it was essential that a political path be supported by “a united, cohesive international effort towards a Syrian-led negotiated political transition aimed at establishing a democratic pluralistic society in which minorities are protected”.

In this light, Ebrahim reiterated the call on the members of the UN Security Council to unite in purpose in moving the parties to a negotiated settlement.

South Africa has maintained that only a political solution can serve to resolve the ongoing conflict in Syria and has repeatedly shown its support for an all-inclusive national dialogue, free of any form of violence, intimidation or outside interference, in order to satisfy the legitimate democratic aspirations of the Syrian people.

More than 100 000 people have died in the ongoing conflict in the country, 4.25-million people have been displaced within the country, and at least another two-million are now refugees, according to the UN.

US President Barack Obama and his top aides have launched a full-scale political offensive to persuade Congress to approve a military strike against Syria. Congress will vote next week on whether to support his plans.