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Legitimization of National Liberation: The United Nations and Southern Africa

  • Yassin El-Ayouty


In a general sense, legitimization by the United Nations of African wars of national liberation means the recognition by various UN bodies that the struggle against colonialism and apartheid in southern Africa is a legitimate endeavour as far as the purposes and the principles of the UN Charter and other UN declarations are concerned. This international recognition of the African liberation movements is expressed through the offer of international aid and through the invitation of these movements to take part in deliberations at the conferences sponsored by UN agencies. The process of UN legitimization of the African struggle for freedom has been tangibly in the making since December 1960, when the world organization adopted General Assembly Resolution 1514 [XV] - the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries (or the declaration on decolonization).



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1 UN, General Assembly, document A/PV.2084, 14 November 1972.

2 UN, Security Council, document S/10828.

3 UN, Security Council, documents S/10834, S/10838 and Rev. 1,and S/10839.

4 Ibid.

5 UN, Security Council, document S/10837. The letter is dated 20 November 1972.

6 Based on an Argentine draft, the resolution was approved by a vote of 13 in favour to nine against, with the Soviet Union abstaining and China not participating. The latter two Powers said that contacts with South Africa were used as a cover by that Government to allow her to pursue her policies of colonial rule in Namibia.

7 The African non-members of the Council who spoke in the debate were: Morocco, Liberia, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Sierra Leone, Chad, and Zambia.

8 Mr. Agha Abdul Hamid (Pakistan) was continued as UN Commissioner for Namibia for the duration of 1973.

9 Resolution 2923E (XXVII) of 15 November 1972,adopted by a vote of 100 in favour to 4 against (South Africa, Portugal, the U.K., and the U.S.) with 21 abstentions.

10 By a vote of 124 in favour, with Portugal and South Africa voting against. African States (see UN document A/C.4/L.1024) of 6 December 1972. Resolution 2979 (XXVII) of 18 December 1972.

11 UN General Assembly resolution 2945 (XXVII), 7 December 1972.

12 The World Bank has not been a co-implementor of this UN process. Its system of weighted voting has permitted it to resist the use of its lending policy against “the offending regimes.”

13 See the author's The United Nations and Decolonization: The Role of Afro-Asia (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1971).

14 UN General Assembly, document A/PV.2078.

15 In the Assembly the vote on the resolution was 76 in favour to 35 against, with 17 abstentions. Supporters of the resolution included most of the African United Nations membership, while the opposition was primarily Western and Latin American.

16 This was reinforced by G.A. Resolution 2979 (XXVII) of 18 December 1972, cited above.

17 UN, Office of Public Information, Press Release NAM/46, 21 December 1972. After the recent enlargement of the Council's membership, the following states are represented on the Council for Namibia: Burundi, Chile, China, Egypt, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Turkey, the U.S.S.R. and Zambia.


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