The study examines SA‟s human rights diplomacy in Africa and the selected countries, namely Libya, Nigeria, the Sudan and Zimbabwe during the presidencies of Presidents Mandela and Mbeki. When SA decided to follow an ethics based foreign policy, especially in the area of human rights, it joined a number of countries who had adopted a similar approach such the United States of America, the Netherlands and Australia. These countries have an established history of human rights diplomacy which is supported by institutional and policy frameworks.
The study argues that although both presidents were committed to a human rights oriented foreign policy, due to constraints that they faced in the continent human rights issues were not consistently and concertedly pursued by them, especially following SA‟s 1995 engagement with Nigeria during the term of the Sani Abacha government. These constraints led to a major shift in SA‟s human rights diplomacy. This shift entailed a move away from unilateral action to reliance on multilateral forums to deal with human rights challenges; the development of continental norms and standards, as well as strengthening continental structures; and conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction and development in Africa. This shift became evident in the content of Departmental strategic plans, and reporting both internally and externally to oversight structures such as Parliament. Hardly any proactive plans were developed to address human rights issues in any of the individual countries. Reporting to Parliament also focused on developments at a multilateral level both at the UN and AU with little coverage of human rights issues in individual countries.
The use of multilateral bodies such as the SADC to address human rights issues became more pronounced, the Zimbabwean crisis being the case in point. Despite the merits of the collective approach, its value is diminished if it is undertaken to the exclusion of bilateral engagements by South African diplomats in specific countries or if gross human rights violations are not raised in multilateral bodies. Similarly, the significance of the normative framework and requisite structures cannot be doubted, but because the results of these initiatives are only realisable in the medium to long term, this approach needs to be buttressed by bilateral diplomatic engagements.
During the period from 1994 to 2008, SA also engaged in a number of conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction and development initiatives. These interventions averted human rights violations by securing peace as well as facilitating the development of constitutional and related frameworks to ensure the protection of human rights in the affected states.
In conclusion, with the exception of Nigeria, SA hardly intervened on its own to intercede on behalf of victims of civil and political rights violations in any of the four states covered by the study. Its approach undermined its commitment to promote and protect human rights in the African continent.