Human rights law in military operations under spotlight

Friday, August 31, 2012

Pretoria - South Africa has taken a number of legislative and policy steps towards ensuring that military operations take place in an environment where both human rights and humanitarian legal principles are present, says Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

"As a result of South Africa's obligations under the Constitution and treaties to which we are a state party, members of the SANDF are bound by the principles of humanitarian law and applicable human rights law. This will be the case whether they are engaged in conflict of international or non-international nature," said Mapisa-Nqakula.

Speaking at the Conference on the Human Rights Law in Military Operations, held at the University of Pretoria on Friday, Mapisa-Nqakula highlighted that the SANDF had definite interests in compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict, which promotes military discipline.

The Law of Armed Conflict was first introduced to the South African Defence in 1997, when it was officially rolled out as part of the Civic Education Program.

Chapter 4 of the SANDF International Humanitarian Law Course deals specifically with the relationship between the Law of Armed Conflict and Human Rights Law.

"Our members are taught that in times of armed conflict, the ability of the state to the application of human rights law may be affected, necessitating that other means of ensuring respect for fundamental human rights be put in place.

"In our view, although the international humanitarian law is manifestation of human rights law in time of war, it does not replace the human rights obligation of the a state, humanitarian law enjoins parties to an armed conflict to respect and preserve the lives and dignity of captured enemy soldiers and civilians, who are in their power," the minister said.

Regarding the peacekeeping operation in the DRC, She commended recent developments in the conflict in the eastern region, where the SANDF members and others participating in the operation in are working under extreme danger and exposure to ensure the protection of innocent civilians.

She noted that in the deployment, South Africa deliberately always included a large number of women as part of the peace keeping operation.

"Not only is this informed by the principles of equality guiding our force employment, but also because, on the ground, women have a better appreciation of the suffering of other women and children as a result of armed conflicts," she said adding that the country is determined to play a role in enhancing the continent's capacity to prevent armed conflict and for peace keeping.

President Jacob Zuma has on 11 July 2012 signed into law the Implementation of the Geneva Conventions Act, 2012 (Act No 8 of 2012).

The objects of the Act are to enact the Conventions into law as is required by Section 231 (4) of the Constitution, ensure that the Republic complies with the Conventions and ensure prevention of, and punishment for breaches of the Conventions.

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