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The 10th anniversary of the annual IISS Oppenheimer Lecture gave Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Public Protector of South Africa, a platform to examine the role of justice and good governance in regional and international peace.

The 10th anniversary of the annual IISS Oppenheimer lecture gave Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Public Protector of South Africa, a platform to examine the role of justice and good governance in regional and international peace

The IISS Oppenheimer lecture is delivered annually by an outstanding leader from sub-Saharan Africa. In the tenth anniversary year of this prestigious event, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Public Protector of South Africa, examined the role of justice and good governance in regional and international peace.

Advocate Thuli Madonsela was appointed Public Protector in 2009 by the unanimous vote of all parties in South Africa’s Parliament and mandated with strengthening constitutional democracy by redressing improper conduct in state affairs. Under her leadership, the office of the Public Protector has received unprecedented national and international recognition for its record on confronting corruption and injustice. Advocate Madonsela has established a reputation for successfully challenging abuses of power, most famously in 2014 in her controversial ‘Nkandla’ Report when she exposed President Zuma’s misuse of public funds to upgrade his residence. 

One of the drafters of South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution and author of numerous laws since the end of minority rule, she is an advocate of the High Court, human rights and constitutional lawyer, seasoned administrative investigator, equality expert and policy specialist with over two and a half decades of post legal qualification experience. In 2011 The Daily Maverick named Advocate Madonsela South African Person of the Year, citing her ‘unwavering commitment to truth’. Voted one of the most influential people in the world by Time in 2014, Advocate Madonsela ‘has assured herself a place in the history of modern South Africa and among the tiny but growing band of African public servants giving us hope for the future’. 

The meeting was chaired by Dr John Chipman CMG, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS.

The following are excerpts from the lecture:


I am sincerely grateful to the International Institute for Security Studies (IISS) for the honour and privilege of delivering the 10th Oppenheimer Lecture under the theme “Justice, Good Governance and International Security”. I also thank the Oppenheimer family for making the lecture possible.

It is a singular honour to follow on the footsteps of leadership giants such as De Beers Chairman, Nicky Oppenheimer, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Nigerian Former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala, President of Mozambique Armando Gwebuza, Rwanda President Paul Kagame and former Senegalese Prime Minister, Aminata Toure, among others, who have delivered the Oppenheimer Lecture since its inception 10 years ago.

I come from a continent where our collective governance structure the African Union (AU) has boldly adopted a roadmap committing the continent to the “Silencing of the Guns in Africa by 2020”, which is four years away.

Let us applaud the IISS for bringing us together to share our thoughts on an issue that bedevils the only common habitat or home we have as the human race. I’m certain you will agree with me that global peace and global warming pose the greatest threat to our existence and life on our planet today.

Dear colleagues, I wish to indicate upfront that I do not purport to engage you as an expert on global peace and security, despite having been labelled and reportedly investigated as a spy.

I stand before you as a fellow global citizen who is concerned about our troubled common habitat, Planet Earth. My thoughts are principally shaped by my work as the Public Protector or South Africa. The office I head is an administrative accountability watchdog or oversight body. You’re probably aware that these administrative accountability institutions have become common in the democracy landscape in all the continents albeit existing under varying labels and varying powers from region to region and country to country. You may also be aware that Sweden introduced the first administrative public accountability office called an Ombudsman about two centuries ago.”

Silencing of the Guns in Africa by 2020

I come from a continent where our collective governance structure the African Union (AU) has boldly adopted a roadmap committing the continent to the “Silencing of the Guns in Africa by 2020”, which is four years away. Our continent’s political leaders have also adopted Agenda 2063, a roadmap seeking to accelerate Africa’s rise to the point of being a functional and successful continent marked by peace, good governance, democracy unhampered economic growth and inclusive development. Perhaps some of you have seen an e-mail to Dr Kwame Nkrumah from AU Commission Chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma outlining what the Africa looks like in 2063. Of course the understanding is that the future comes one day at a time meaning the African landscape should gradually look like the Africa we want each day from the adoption of Agenda 2063 in 2013.

Our meeting also takes place shortly after the United Nations (UN) closed the chapter on implementation of Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) and entered a new chapter of implementation of the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is worth noting that Sustainable Development Goal 16, which is relevant to our dialogue, is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.

The contrast between the world we yearn for and the one we currently inhabit is difficult to ignore, particularly with regard to justice and regional as well as international peace.”

“I’m certain you too will agree with me that our common habitat has become a very dangerous place for many ordinary people. For many the uppermost thought on waking up and last thing before they sleep is the question of physical security. They wonder if they’ll be alive the next day.

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In many parts of the world, ordinary people, particularly women and children are dying daily or displaced with only the clothes on their back, like in primitive societies. International humanitarian law as we used to know it seems unable to step in and help as ordinary civilians, particularly women and children, become collateral damage from all sides of whatever war they are caught in. As in primitive society wars, women and children are killed, tortured and collected or sold as sex slaves or forced into marriage. As we meet more than 200 girls captured in Northern Nigeria are still missing.

As all of this happens, the centre is not holding as far as global governance is concerned. For example, the International Criminal Court (ICC) conceived and established as a bulwark against impunity for genocide and related heinous crimes not addressed by domestic courts, is facing a legitimacy crisis.

The ICC is accused of targeting alleged criminal acts of African leaders in the face of unilateralism and civilian massacres by western states principally in Africa and Muslim states. A related grievance is that some members of the UN are allowed to have a say in ICC operations while they themselves are not accountable to it.

Linked to this grievance, is perpetuation of colonial inequalities in global governance through exclusive membership of the UN Security Council and the use of its veto powers which allegedly paralyse accountability efforts concerning some of the member states. We are all aware that more and more powerful states are taking the law into their own hands with regard to military strikes abroad claiming to be doing so in support of friends or repelling their enemies or security threats.”

“Some us are beginning to believe we a middle of a third world war. You’re probably thinking that’s rather alarmist.  I’m certain those of you who are war experts have quickly reflected on your definition of war and are raising your eyebrows.

But let us reflect for a moment on the state of peace and security in the world. Not an hour passes without news of a mass death related to global terrorism, civil war and war between nation states. I hope you will agree with me that a convergence of forces albeit with different interests and strategies, is emerging on the fight against global terrorism that is systematically unleashed by extremist groups such as ISIS, Aqaeda and Boko Haram.”

“My proposition is that perceived injustice within and between national states is a threat to international peace and security. It is my considered view that experienced or perceived injustice, particularly relating to lack of accountability or impunity for harm or wrongdoing and social injustice, poses a threat to global peace and security. What about governance? Do good and bad governance impact differently on global peace and security? My answer is yes provided we accept that peace and security transcend the absence of war.

But you must agree with me that “as long as there is injustice somewhere there can’t be sustainable peace anywhere”.  You’ve also probably have heard the saying that “A hungry man is an angry man”

“It is important to note that the existence of laws that are enforced no matter how rigorously per se does not mean there is justice. As survivors of colonialism and apartheid we know that the law can be unjust and used as an instrument of oppression.”

Pope Paul VI once said “If you want peace, work for justice.”  The first woman to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, in 1931, Jane Adams, once said “True peace is not merely the absence of war, it is the presence of justice.”

“It is important to note that the existence of laws that are enforced no matter how rigorously per se does not mean there is justice. As survivors of colonialism and apartheid we know that the law can be unjust and used as an instrument of oppression. Under feudalism and in oppressive states the same applies.

For true justice to obtain there must be the rule of law. The rule of law generally refers to a state of affairs where people are governed by rules rather than arbitrary decisions of those exercising state or public power. The rules must be general and certain, known by all affected and uniformly or equally applied to all.”

“I think that, to foster global peace, the rule of law principles must also apply at regional and global governance levels.

The requirement that the government and its officials and agents as well as individuals and private entities are accountable under the law, is particularly apposite in this regard.”

“Let us ponder on the relationship between governance failure in different nation states and regions and global peace. Will you agree with me that what happens anywhere in the world has implications for the rest of the world?

A while ago I found a poem written in the 60s that I believe provides a beautiful simplification of our interdependence as humanity. The poem tells the story of 6 humans trapped by happenstance on a bitterly cold dark night. They were all seating around a dying fire with each having a log in their possession that could revive the fire.

The first person looked across and noted a person from a different racial group than his and decided to not to use his log to revive the dying fire as he did not want the person from a different race to benefit. The second person looked across and saw someone from a different church than hers and decided not to benefit that person from her log. A poor person saw a rich person on the other side and decided he would not benefit the filthy rich while the rich man saw the poor man and decided he wasn’t going to benefit the lazy poor with his log. A historically disadvantaged person noted members of a historically advantaged group and decided it was time for revenge and withheld his log. The 6thperson, a person who had never done anything except for gain, decided to withhold his log on account of his companions not being in a position to pay him for his service.

The poem ends by stating what we already know that they did not die from the cold without, they died from the cold within. The opposite is referred to as Ubuntu in my country. Human solidarity, which the Constitutional court has read into our foundational values as entrenched in the constitution particularly the value of human dignity,  is about appreciating that I am because you are.”

“I hope you agree with me that as part of the rule of law and reduction of perceptions of selective global justice, practices such as unilateral military interventions by individual member states need rethinking. You must also agree that if some states are perceived to be above the law, or allowed to operate on the basis of “might is right”, defiance by those who can afford to do so may grow.

It is my humble view that global governance in its current form is not equal to the task.  It is accordingly time to go back to the drawing board and have a dialogue similar to the one that followed the Second World War to take stock of what has worked and what has changed regarding global governance and tweak the system accordingly.

The AU on the other hand cannot afford to throw away the baby with the bath water, regarding the ICC.  Let the ICC do its work while an AU equivalent that transcends adversarial justice, is formulated. Women and children in particular, cannot afford a vacuum. States operating under the ICC should, on the other hand, urgently commit fully to accountability under the ICC, while talks take place regarding its reform.”

The full lecture can be found at:


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