President Cyril Ramaphosa and Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres shake hands during a bilateral meeting at the UN headquarters in New York in September 2018. Picture: GCIS/ ELMOND JIYANE
President Cyril Ramaphosa and Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres shake hands during a bilateral meeting at the UN headquarters in New York in September 2018. Picture: GCIS/ ELMOND JIYANE

SA’s foreign policy practice in multilateral institutions has often failed to match the promise of its constitution, lauded for its advancement of human rights. Some of the country’s more dubious decisions in the UN Security Council have given the lie to its stated commitment to human rights over the callous pragmatism of realpolitik.

In two terms on the Security Council (2007-2008; 2011-2012), for example, SA voted against resolutions condemning human rights violations in Myanmar and sanctioning Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe; it rejected a draft resolution for sanctions against Sudan; and abstained from a resolution condemning "systemic human rights violations" in Syria.

2019 brings with it the opportunity for SA to salvage its reputation as far as its rights record is concerned — and with the world teetering on the edge of turmoil, there should be more than enough opportunity for it to do just that.

As SA takes up a seat on the Security Council for a third time, one can only hope President Cyril Ramaphosa’s "new dawn" will show itself to have force in the human rights realm too. SA’s decision late last year to reverse its position on Myanmar is a first step in the right direction. It is, one hopes, a harbinger of a foreign policy more closely aligned with the ideals for which so many South Africans sacrificed so much.