Vhahangwele Nemakonde
Digital Night Supervisor
3 minute read
2 Mar 2022
11:19 pm

Why South Africa abstained from Ukraine vote at UN General Assembly

Vhahangwele Nemakonde

Ambassador Joyini believes Wednesday's meeting should have encouraged negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.

Members voted overwhelmingly for a non-binding resolution that condemns Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and demands that Russia immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine. Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

South Africa has explained its decision to abstain from voting on the Russia-Ukraine conflict at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.

This after the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that demanded Russia to immediately withdraw from Ukraine.

The resolution was adopted after 141 out of 193 member states voted for the non-binding resolution, while five voted against the resolution.

South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mali, Namibia and Mozambique are among the 35 member states that abstained from the vote, while other African countries such as Botswana and Nigeria voted in favour of the resolution.

South Africa’s decision to abstain from the vote solicited strong views from its citizens, who argued on social media it should have voted to end the violence in Ukraine.

ALSO READ: UN General Assembly demands Russia withdraw from Ukraine

However, South Africa says the conflict involves two members of the UN in an armed conflict, and it is the UN’s responsibility to take decisions and actions that will lead to a “constructive outcome” conducive to the creation of sustainable peace between the parties.

The resolution adopted at the meeting on Wednesday does not create an environment conducive for diplomacy, argued SA’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Mathu Joyini, in a statement.

“While we agree with, and support the efforts taken by Member States to bring to the attention of the international community the situation in Ukraine, South Africa feels that greater attention should have been paid to bringing the sides closer to dialogue. For South Africa, the text in its current form could drive a deeper wedge between the parties rather than contributing to a resolution of the conflict.”

Russia’s security concerns

Joyini said Wednesday’s resolution should have welcomed the commencement of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, as one of the root causes of the conflict is related to the security concerns of the parties.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reiterated that his biggest concern is the threat which “irresponsible Western politicians” created for Russia “consistently, rudely and unceremoniously” over the years.

Putin was referring to the eastward expansion of NATO, which he said was moving its military infrastructure closer to the Russian border.

“It is a fact that over the past 30 years we have been patiently trying to come to an agreement with the leading NATO countries regarding the principles of equal and indivisible security in Europe. In response to our proposals, we invariably faced either cynical deception and lies or attempts at pressure and blackmail, while the North Atlantic alliance continued to expand despite our protests and concerns. Its military machine is moving and, as I said, is approaching our very border,” said Putin in a statement released by the Kremlin last week.

Joyini said Wednesday’s meeting should have addressed this.

“Our position as expressed during the discussions of the Emergency Special Session over the last few days, is that South Africa remains deeply concerned by the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and the regional and international socio-economic implications. We strongly urge all sides to uphold international law, including humanitarian law and human rights law, as well as the principles of the UN Charter, including sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she said.

Even though the emergency special session of the General Assembly was held after the Security Council’s failure to address the matter, Joyini said it should still be urged to play its role in maintaining international peace and security.

“South Africa believes that the UN, especially in the context of Emergency Special Sessions, whose nature and significance speak to the gravity of issues we bring before the international community, should be used as a platform to build bridges, address the divergence of views, provide recommendations and support for the parties to engage with the spirit of compromise, while de-escalating tensions, committing to the cessation of hostilities, and building trust and confidence.”

But the adopted resolution, according to Joyini, will not achieve this.

“South Africa would have also preferred an open and transparent process to negotiate the resolution today. This would have allowed all of us, as equal members of the Assembly, to present our views and ideally reach a level of understanding before the text was tabled.”