Earlier versions of this story incorrectly credited Nelson Mandela's government with scrapping the country's nuclear weapons program. Former South African President F.W. de Klerk ordered the destruction of his country's atomic arms program.
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South Africa's U.N. Votes Disappoint Some
He said that South Africa's efforts to settle a dispute between Khartoum and numerous Darfurian rebel factions are likely to do more to achieve peace than threats of Western sanctions or scolding from human rights advocates.
South Africa is unapologetic about its willingness to stand up for friends such as Zimbabwe, which has launched a bloody crackdown on opposition leaders. "We do not apologize for having very strong, long relationship with Zimbabwe," Kumalo said. "There are a lot of people in Zimbabwe who died for me to stand up here as ambassador."
Kumalo said his government is sympathetic to the plight of victims of human rights abuses in such countries as Zimbabwe, Sudan and Burma. But he said the appropriate forum for those concerns is the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, not the U.N. Security Council. Last week, South Africa also voted on a measure to end scrutiny of human rights abuses inside Iran and Uzbekistan. The only country it has cited as deserving of international scrutiny is Israel.
Burmese human rights advocates say that while South Africa has provided political cover for Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, it has betrayed its former supporters in Burma's pro-democracy movement.
In 1960, Burma's then-elected government joined other U.N. members from the Third World in calling for a Security Council debate over the apartheid government's role in the April 1960 Sharpeville massacre, which led to the killing of 69 anti-apartheid protesters in the South African township. South Africa's then-U.N. ambassador, Brand Fourie, argued that the council had no right to debate such "purely local disturbances."
But in its first Security Council vote this year, South Africa joined Russia and China in voting against a U.S.-backed initiative to discuss the Burmese regime's oppression of pro-democracy followers of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the past 17 years.
"It's ironic," said Jared Genser, a Washington lawyer and Burma activist, that the argument marshaled now by South Africa to block debate on Burma was "virtually identical" to that used by the apartheid regime to challenge the Security Council's criticism of the treatment of anti-apartheid protesters.
"I am deeply disappointed by our vote. It is a betrayal of our own noble past," South African Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu said after the vote. "Many in the international community can hardly believe it," he said. "The tyrannical military regime is gloating, and we sided with them."