Crystallize International Opinion for Action on Namibia

Presidential address to the International Conference on South West Africa, Oxford, March 23, 1966

Apartheid has no future

The last twenty years have been characterized by a rapid process of decolonization. Colonial empires have crumbled and disappeared. Nations have won national independence - sometimes after peaceful negotiations, sometimes after long strife and gallant struggle. It is a complete illusion to believe that this process of decolonization should stop in front of the last remnants of colonial rule in the Africa of today.

The efforts to retain white supremacy and white power under the pretext of the obnoxious theories of apartheid stand in total contradiction to the ideals of human rights, equality and common decency which must form the basis of any civilized community. Apartheid can only lead to continued conflict and strife - with disastrous consequences to the international scene as a whole - to continued intolerable conditions for millions of people and to continued human suffering. This system of apartheid has no future, it is a disgrace to the present and it must soon become an evil of the past. That is our common responsibility. That is what this conference is about.

A few days ago the South African Government banned the Defence and Aid Fund in South Africa.(1) It is an act of force that signifies weakness. People are sentenced in accordance with laws that are in themselves a mockery of the ideals of justice. Now their possibilities of defence before courts that are bound by these laws are apparently taken away. But those who are afraid to allow humanitarian aid to the victims of a perverted justice are not strong. They only show that they strongly feel the wall behind their backs.

Perhaps the action against the Fund was meant to show that aid from outside has no meaning and that support will always fail. The Fund has contributors in many countries. The government to which I belong is, I believe, the largest single contributor. The happenings of the last few days have rather convinced us of the necessity of continued and determined support for the activities the Fund has carried out. It has proved its effectiveness.

Sanctions against Rhodesia

In these days the question of Rhodesia stands in the forefront of public attention. The sanctions against Rhodesia must not fail. I am naturally thinking of the consequences for the people of Rhodesia of such a failure. But a failure would also be disastrous for the whole idea of a world community with will and power to enforce the rule of law.

In December 1965 the Swedish Government requested the Security Council of the United Nations to decide on mandatory sanctions against Rhodesia. Today in a policy declaration in Parliament our Foreign Minister repeated that request. It has become fearfully late. But it is hardly ever too late if you really want to act.

Sanctions - to be effective - require decisive action from the governments of the Member States of the United Nations and appropriate legal means to enforce them. The experience of the last few months have shown that a number of technical difficulties may arise. Governments have had to rely on temporary legislation and voluntary agreements with different interests. As an example, I can mention that in a recent bill I had to revive two old laws from the last war in order legally to prohibit shipping to a country subjected to sanctions decided or recommended by the Security Council.(2)

This experience is the reason why the four Scandinavian countries have decided to prepare a special United Nations law, covering all aspects of economic life, that shall be put immediately into effect when the Security Council decides or recommends sanctions. This will, in the future, improve our preparedness for swift action if and when such a situation arises.

Time for action on South West Africa (Namibia)

I now come to the issue of South West Africa.

Everybody in this hall is fully aware that very soon the question of South West Africa will be in the focus of attention. This does not mean that the problems and the plight of the people in South West Africa are something new and sudden. For over twenty years, there has been an endless row of pleas and petitions, of resolutions and recommendations, of opinions from the International Court of Justice and of reports from distinguished international commissions. I need not on this occasion go into this recent history. It is fully covered in the admirable papers presented to this conference and we were reminded of it in the message from the Reverend Michael Scott.

This long chain of failures and disappointments may easily have caused despair. It is not a very promising background for feelings of optimism and hope. But nevertheless there is some hope and much determination in the air. People have a feeling that at long last we are coming to the point where the international community will have to go forward from resolution to decision, from intention to intervention. It has been a very long and painful road. But many hope that we are now approaching the end.

This is vital and decisive for the people of South West Africa. It is important because we are thus coming near the whole kernel of apartheid. Therefore this conference is tremendously important. We are all waiting for the verdict of the International Court. And we know that the decision of the Court is legally binding. We are all looking forward to the subsequent handling of the issue of South West Africa in the United Nations. We know that the execution of the Court`s decision - if need be - falls upon the Security Council and that the Council in that case has wide legal powers for action. We are thus aware that soon very important decisions will have to be taken in the cabinet rooms of individual governments and in the council halls of the United Nations.(3)

This conference cannot take mandatory decisions binding upon governments and upon international organizations. But at this crucial stage it can fulfil the decisive function of providing the facts, the material and the documentation about the situation in South West Africa. And it can crystallize the attention of international opinion on the dreadful consequences of inaction, and the urgent necessity of action in the case of South West Africa. But effective action calls for preparation and planning.

It has all too often happened in the history of individual countries, of the world powers, of the international community, that they have for years seen a situation arise, and then inevitable developments take their course. In this respect they have unwittingly acted as bystanders. And when the issue has burst wide open it has seemingly come as a shock and surprise. Action has then become blunt, haphazard, sometimes panicky and with disastrous consequences. It is an important purpose of this conference to remind and impress upon the world community the responsibility it soon will be facing.

If we believe that reason and facts can appeal to the minds of men, this conference will have strength and power. And if we believe that the emotional impact of the ideals of justice and equality can stir the imagination and the will to act among people everywhere, then this conference will indeed have influence and significance for world opinion.

Common responsibility

We want the people of South West Africa to form their own future. This is a question of political decision and political organization. But it is also a question of social and economic development. That is also a common responsibility.

The Swedish Government has just decided to launch a programme of assistance to Swaziland, Bechuanaland and Basutoland.(4) The programme will be carried out in cooperation with the United Nations, and it is mainly directed towards education. The declared aim of the programme is to strengthen the independent standing of these small and surrounded countries.

The people of South West Africa have for many years been exploited. The international community has been unable to defend their rights and their interests. It is our common responsibility that South West Africa should have the chance of a better future. Would this not really be an opportunity to show that international solidarity and common effort is a practical reality? If this shall be the case, we have no time to wait. The time for planning, preparations and constructive thinking for this international effort has already come.

I fully agree with President Kaunda that external solutions for the problems of reconstruction and consolidation often fail. But those who are responsible for internal solutions should in crucial times not feel that they stand alone.

The success of this conference will be measured by its impact on international opinion. You will consider the facts and the material. You will probe into their implications and discuss possible roads of action. What we need above all is unity of purpose and clarity in aims. That this conference can provide.

The conference is of great importance. Therefore your responsibility is great. I wish the conference the best of success.

(1) The Defence and Aid Fund for South Africa was founded in the early 1950s by the Reverend Canon L. John Collins in London to provide legal and other assistance to the victims of unjust laws in South Africa, to support their families and to keep the conscience of the world alive to the issues at stake.

In 1966, the South African Government banned the Defence and Aid Committee formed in South Africa to disburse the funds sent from London, thus making the provision of assistance to political prisoners and their families difficult.

(2) Olof Palme was then Minister for Transport and Communications

(3) After South Africa ignored a number of United Nations resolutions, as well as advisory opinions of the International Court of Justice, on the administration of South West Africa, Ethiopia and Liberia, as Allied Powers in the First World War, brought contentious proceedings before the International Court at the request of the United Nations General Assembly. They held that South Africa had violated its obligations under the Mandate and asked the Court to order it to abolish apartheid in the Territory and submit its administration to supervision by the United Nations. It was hoped that a binding judgment by the Court on this dispute would facilitate effective international action.

However, after prolonged proceedings, the International Court ruled on July 18, 1966, that Ethiopia and Liberia had not established their legal right in the matter. Accordingly it declined to pass judgment on the merits of the dispute.

(4) After independence in 1966, the name of Bechuanaland was changed to Botswana and that of Basutoland to Lesotho.


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