Keynote Address by Deputy Minister Alvin Botes at the Sixth Commonwealth Red Cross and Red Crescent International Humanitarian Law Conference, 15 April 2024

Keynote Address by Deputy Minister Alvin Botes at the Sixth Commonwealth Red Cross and Red Crescent International Humanitarian Law Conference, 15 April 2024


Dr Nils Melzer, Director of International Law, Policy and Humanitarian Diplomacy, ICRC Geneva,

Mr Jules Amoti, Head of Regional Delegation, ICRC Pretoria,

Mr Takalo Molefi, CEO, South African Red Cross Society,

Mr Michael Meyer, Head of International Law, British Red Cross,

Representative from the Commonwealth Secretariat,

Rear Admiral Pandeni, SADC Regional Peacekeeping Training Centre,

Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners,

Representatives from Commonwealth States and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies,

Fellow colleagues,


It is both an honour and privilege to welcome you all to South Africa and the opening of the 6th Commonwealth Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference on International Humanitarian Law.


It has been five years since the Commonwealth Conference took place and I take this moment to thank the ICRC and the British Red Cross Society for entrusting South Africa with co-hosting the 6th Conference.


I take this opportunity to congratulate all stakeholders involved in the preparation for the Conference for demonstrating their commitment towards ensuring the success of this Conference.


Similarly, on behalf of South Africa, I would like to thank Mr Amoti and the Regional Delegation in Pretoria for their tireless efforts during a difficult period in which resource constraints continue to be a major threat to the sustainability of Humanitarian initiatives that may place limitations on our gatherings. In this regard, I would like to also particularly thank the British Red Cross Society and Commonwealth Secretariat for their commitment to making this Conference substantively effective and logistically efficient despite some of the challenges experienced.


Distinguished Guests,


Whilst it may only be in its sixth iteration, the Commonwealth Conference on IHL has cemented itself as an institution that affords Member States and the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, the opportunity to consciously and respectfully deliberate as well as demonstrate our collective commitment towards the strengthening of IHL.


The overarching theme for the Conference is “Towards a universal culture of compliance: The contribution of the Commonwealth to the implementation of and development of International Humanitarian Law.”  In a world that is currently witnessing more than one hundred armed conflicts, never has it been more critical that as Member States and global citizens generally, we take stock and unpack areas of international humanitarian law that require strengthening to ensure that this body of law is fundamentally respected.


The world is faced with a multiplicity of contemporary challenges that are exacerbated by geopolitical dynamics which are threatening global peace and stability. This Conference is an acknowledgment, that as High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, there is a dire need to recalibrate and strengthen existing instruments which would match our common fight against protracted humanitarian situations emanating from armed conflicts, climate change, food insecurity and displacements. These challenges require enhanced efforts from all to efficiently comply with IHL and to ensure its application during times of peace and war. It is through this that we strive to alleviate the direct and indirect impact that armed conflict inflicts on humankind and the environment.


Distinguished Guests,


We are witnesses to the gravest violations of international humanitarian law. This has only been exacerbated by new technologies, artificial intelligence, cyber warfare, autonomous weapons, and digitalisation. In times of peace these elements are profound milestones towards human development, but it is in times of conflict, without the consideration of IHL, that these themselves become weapons of war.


Due to the complex nature of the global challenges we face, the proclamation of IHL’s importance towards the protection of civilians, civilian and critical infrastructure as well as humanity is more relevant than ever. Pursuing the application of and compliance with IHL advances prevention, preparedness, and response to armed conflict in efforts to enable development and avenues for sustainable peace.


Since the dawn of democracy, it has been South Africa’s principled position that resolutions to conflict have more of an opportunity to be sustainable when the root causes are addressed through mutually inclusive dialogues. My country’s dedication to conflict resolution, peace keeping missions, peacebuilding, and post-conflict reconstruction and development efforts demonstrates 1) our unwavering commitment towards humanitarian diplomacy through promoting peace and security; and 2) our steadfast stance on the respect for and compliance with IHL.


In so doing, South Africa reiterates that where there is conflict there needs to be an immediate cessation of hostilities between the warring parties, that international law should be followed, chief amongst this, the protection of civilians, and that the international community has a responsibility to help create favourable conditions for negotiations, dialogue and open corridors for humanitarian assistance.


South Africa believes in the peaceful resolution of conflicts, a proactive approach to the maintenance of international peace and security, particularly in the form of drawing greater attention to preventative diplomacy mechanisms, as well as post-conflict reconstruction and development. Furthermore, we are concerned with the increasing humanitarian challenges emerging in the continent because of resurgence of conflicts and the impact of natural hazards such as droughts, landslides, floods, and earthquakes.


Some of the key interventions my country has made in the recent past towards promoting global peace and security, include the hosting of the first direct peace talks between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which concluded with the signing of the Peace Agreement on 2 November 2022. This agreement sets out a detailed programme of disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration for the TPLF combatants. The process to reach the peace agreement is proof that an African solution to an African problem is possible. This agreement marked an important milestone in the AU-led mediation process hosted in South Africa, in pursuit of a peaceful solution to the conflict. I must of course also mention South Africa’s case to the International Court of Justice aimed at ensuring the protection of civilians who are the victims of the ongoing war in Gaza.


We further emphasise the importance of the role of women in peace and security and the need for women to be involved in conflict prevention, management, and peacebuilding. A gender perspective must be integrated into all these processes, considering that women, men, boys, and girls have different needs, experiences and are differently affected by the effects of wars.  While being cognisant of women as victims, some even becoming refugees during armed conflict, and to provide for their protection, it is crucial to see them as actors that require empowerment to create sustainable peace and security.


Distinguished Guests,


Platforms, like this Conference, are pivotal in responding and preparing for some of the most complex humanitarian challenges and conflict situations. The Conference provides us all as stakeholders of IHL the opportunity to reflect and share our national progresses and experiences. It allows for frank discussions that include noting that in the space of 5 years, regardless the nature in which they began, international humanitarian law is facing multiple threats. This begs the question, how can we as High Contracting Parties and the Red Cross movement affirm its relevancy?


As we build upon the progress made since the 5th Commonwealth Conference, I implore Member States and the Movements to continue to share best practices and experiences that will further strengthen our compliance with IHL and promote its implementation. We are looking forward to the upcoming Thirty-Fourth International Conference of the ICRC, that will be held later this year in Geneva. We are concerned that international humanitarian law is not being complied with, and State Parties’ obligations to provide full and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance in situations of armed conflict should be discussed adhered to.


Distinguished Guests,


Before concluding, let me pay special homage to all those humanitarian workers who have lost their lives in pursuit of a noble goal of assisting civilians trapped in conflict situations, whilst also acknowledging those who daily continue to operate in complex humanitarian situations at great risk to their own lives.


Finally, as I conclude, let me thank all of you for your commitment and support towards the success of the Conference. It is my hope that, together as Member States and the Red Cross movement, we will identify domestic, regional, and global priorities that can be used to realise the full implementation and enforcement of our obligations under IHL. This is also particularity important as we prepare ourselves for the 34th International Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference. I wish you all a successful Conference with fruitful deliberations that will result in tangible outcomes.


Thank you.




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