Further thoughts about apartheid

23 September, 2010 at 12:38 | Posted in Politics | 2 Comments
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My first post on this blog deals with what I perceive as overuse of the term apartheid – overuse that amounts to abuse. I have noticed that many people who accuse certain countries or societies of practicing “apartheid” refer to the UN-brokered “International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid”, which was opened to signature in the UN headquarters in New York City on 30 November 1973. People often think of international treaties as some kind of holy scriptures, formulated by the word’s sages and acceptable on all. There are indeed treaties that almost became a modern version of the Ten Commandments, but these are few. In most cases, international treaties are documents that are meant to serve political interests of certain countries. Despite their legal language, they are not necessarily binding laws, especially in cases where many countries refused to sign the treaty. Actually, this is exactly the case of the “counter-apartheid treaty”.

The South African system of apartheid was condemned by nearly all countries in the world. This condemnation translated into strict international boycott. However, many of the countries that condemned the South African apartheid and used to boycott the South African government did not sign the “counter-apartheid treaty”. This fact becomes even more significant when considering that most of the non-party countries are veteran democracies.


Map from Wikipedia showing (in dark green) the countries that signed the "counter-apartheid treaty"

Map from Wikipedia showing (in dark green) the countries that signed the "counter-apartheid treaty"


Here is an incomplete list of such non-party countries: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, West Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Benelux countries, Scandinavian countries, Japan and several others. Also, when Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Greece became fully democratic, they did not accede to the treaty. How come such countries with respected record of fighting apartheid and racism declined to join a treaty countering apartheid? Actually, according to the data I could find, even post-apartheid South Africa did not bother to accede to this treaty. How can someone treat such a treaty seriously? Could it be that certain countries politically abused the just fight against racial discrimination in South Africa?


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  1. As I have mentioned before: this is just one more of the cases where a word is used with a wrong denotation in order to abuse its connotation. The word “apartheid” has its denotation, and very negative connotation. By using it for things that are not really apartheid, its negative connotation transfers on these things.

    • You are right, and this is probably the reason why most democratic countries did not approve the aforementioned treaty. There are already treaties for human rights and against discrimination, and the counter-apartheid one probably seemed too politicized, trying to “gain” from the negative sense of apartheid by applying it to various disputes. The problem is that this is a UN-endorsed treaty that people treat as if it were a universally accepted rule, while it is definitely not.

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