This discussion focused on the topic of international relations and its relationship with constitutional democracy, as well as good public leadership. This is especially significant in the context of events such as South Africa permitting Sudanese President al-Bashir (who is accused of committing genocide) into the country. This, to the chagrin of the international community, as well as civil society, which led to the matter coming before the Constitutional Court. The breakfast was attended by guests from across the spectrum including government, academia, civil society and the media.
The keynote address was delivered by Her Excellency, Ambassador Ms Marisa Gerards of the Netherlands. She opened the discussion by highlighting the history between the Netherlands and South Africa. She spoke about the historical links between the two nations spanning as far back as the first Dutch explorers on South African soil, to the more recent anti-apartheid movements.
She praised the South African Constitution and its pioneering nature. That the country is now celebrating over 20 years of a constitutional democracy is exemplary and the world should take page out of South Africa’s book. The wording in the Constitution is not the sole reason for praise. She applauded the process that reconciled conflicting groups in society and established a national vision and identity. The importance of Chapter 9 Institutions and the unrelenting work of offices such as that of the Public Protector was noted. She drew a comparison with the Dutch constitution, which is the oldest written constitution in Europe, and pointed out the weight attached to the right to equality in both texts.
With reference to international relations, she said that a fundamental part of achieving good governance is international dialogue. Due to the ‘global village’ of the world today, we need to look beyond our borders and consider good global governance. Since 2010, the upswing in the number of conflicts worldwide, as well as displaced persons, means a new way of viewing governance. She mentioned the fear being experienced by Europeans as a result of the growth in migration, and the reality of terrorism. As an answer to these issues, the United Nations (UN) has the power and legitimacy to bring all the necessary parties to the table. However, it is important for all the players to have political will.
In conclusion, she mentioned three points to be considered for improvement. The first being the willingness to make room for non-Western nations within the UN, especially within the Security Council. Secondly, she stated the need to recognise regionalisation as a global trend. Regional organisations such as the African Union need to collaborate with multilateral systems like the UN. Finally, she suggested the need for a broader spectrum of stakeholders and to avoid restricting problem-solving to governments.
The second speaker was His Excellency, Ambassador Mr Walter Linder of Germany. He commenced by highlighting the importance of ideology in any government. He noted that all nations have different issues that plague them. Europe at the moment is tackling that of migration. Due to the ever increasing population of the world, issues such as migration, famine, civil war and armed conflict are set to feature prominently in the future. He said that good governance is not about only focusing on current issues, but looking into the future to make sure that the generation that follows is secure.
He concurred with Ms Gerards in terms of the reform of the UN. The constitution of the UN and the Security Council mirror the attitudes of people towards groups such as migrants, and fuel xenophobia. He highlighted the need to emphasise the universal nature of human rights. All people have them and cannot be excluded because they are refugees.
Following the speeches, the audience raised a number of important questions. It was highlighted that the international relations of the country, as well as the politics involved therein are often viewed as being detached from constitutionalism. No law or policy is above the Constitution.
One question related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted last year and asked whether stronger nations could help alleviate the issues that result in migration. Mr Linder cautioned that attempting to guide other nations, particularly in the ‘West and Africa’ context, with regard to development policies, is a sensitive enterprise. It is necessary but must be conducted delicately. Another member of the audience asked how social cohesion could be built. Both Ambassadors agreed that in order to avoid occurrences of xenophobia, for example, social cohesion must be taught at schools and ‘otherness’ be extinguished through the integration of different languages and cultures so as to create the quintessential global citizen. This is also not a simple task.
The anticipated question of whether the International Criminal Court (ICC) is biased when it comes to the prosecution of African leaders was raised. In response, Mr Linder noted that African countries signed the ICC treaty and thus subjected themselves to its jurisdiction. This should expel all doubts as to the existence of bias. Both speakers noted the need for consistency on the part of fellow African states when considering individuals who have committed heinous crimes.
In conclusion, it is imperative to refrain from divorcing foreign policy and constitutionalism when addressing international relations. Foreign policy, despite its political undertone, must always meet constitutional muster. As the Constitutional Court ruled in the al-Bashir matter, international law is expressly provided for in the Constitution and must be considered when the situation necessitates.
By Rebecca Sibanda: Legal Assistant; Centre for Constitutional Rights