United Nations Commissioner for Namibia

United Nations Commissioner for Namibia

United Nations Commissioner for South-West Africa was a post created by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 1967 to assert the UN's direct responsibility for South-West Africa which was then under illegal occupation by apartheid South Africa. [UN General Assembly resolution 2248 of 19 May 1967 established a "UN Council for South-West Africa" and "UN Commissioner for South-West Africa"]

UNGA renamed the post United Nations Commissioner for Namibia in 1968. [UN General Assembly resolution 2372 of 12 June 1968 renamed "UN Council for Namibia" and "UN Commissioner for Namibia"]

Namibia eventually achieved its independence from South Africa on 21 March 1990.


After World War I, South Africa was given a League of Nations mandate to administer South-West Africa. Following World War II and the introduction of apartheid, South Africa's mandate was revoked by UNGA in October 1966. [UN General Assembly resolution 2145 (XXI) revoked South Africa's mandate] In May 1967, during its fifth session, UNGA established the United Nations Council for South-West Africa "to administer South-West Africa until independence, with the maximum possible participation of the people of the territory". In 1968, it adopted the name "Namibia" for the territory. The United Nations Security Council endorsed UNGA's actions by adopting resolutions 264 and 269 of 1969. [ [http://www.un.org/documents/sc/res/1969/scres69.htm Text of UNSCRs 264 of 1969] ]

UNSCR 276 of 1970 confirmed the illegality of South Africa's presence in the territory. [ [http://www.un.org/documents/sc/res/1970/scres70.htm Text of UNSCR 276 of 1970] ] The same year, the Security Council decided to request an Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as to the legal consequences for Member States of South Africa's continued presence in Namibia notwithstanding UNSCR 276 of 1970. The following year the ICJ's Advisory Opinion confirmed UNGA's revocation of the mandate and declared that South Africa must withdraw its administration and end its occupation and that Member States were under an obligation to refrain from any support or assistance to South Africa in Namibia.

UN Commissioners

There were four occupants of the post of United Nations Commissioner for Namibia (UNCN). South Africa refused to recognise any of the UN Commissioners.

eán MacBride

In 1973, UNGA elected Seán MacBride of Ireland to be the UN's first Commissioner for Namibia and accorded him the rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. Having been a founder-member and international chairman since 1961 of Amnesty International, MacBride was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 for having "mobilised the conscience of the world in the fight against injustice".

In 1975, any hopes that the actions of his father, John MacBride, in leading the Irish Transvaal Brigade (known as MacBride's Brigade) for the Boers against the British army, in the Boer War, would give Seán MacBride some leverage with South Africa's apartheid government were soon dashed. South Africa began pursuing its own plans for the territory by convening a "constitutional conference" of the leaders of the homelands in Windhoek. The South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), recognised by UNGA as "the sole and authentic representative of the Namibian people", was not invited. At the conference, the "Turnhalle Group" (named after the building where the conference took place) established an interim government and agreed to aim for independence at the end of 1976.

In an effort to thwart South Africa's plans, the Security Council adopted UNSCR 385 on 30 January 1976 which declared that it was imperative to hold free elections under UN supervision and control for the whole of Namibia as one political entity. [ [http://www.un.org/documents/sc/res/1976/scres76.htm Text of UNSCR 385 of 30 January 1976] ]

Martti Ahtisaari

Martti Ahtisaari of Finland followed as UNCN in 1977 and, with the five Western members of the Security Council ("Western Contact Group") participated in a series of talks with the Frontline States, SWAPO and South Africa until a "settlement proposal" to resolve the Namibian situation was eventually agreed between the negotiators – but not formally by the United Nations – in April 1978. The "settlement proposal" contained a negotiated compromise. Described as a "working arrangement" which would "in no way constitute recognition of the legality of the South African presence in and administration of Namibia", it allowed South Africa, through an Administrator-General designated by it, to administer elections, but under United Nations supervision and control exercised through a Special Representative of the Secretary-General, who would be assisted by a United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG). Later in 1978, the UN Security Council approved a resolution with a specific, timetabled plan for SADF withdrawal and Namibian elections and authorised UNTAG, with a combined military and civilian force, to facilitate the transition to independence. [ [http://www.un.org/documents/sc/res/1978/scres78.htm Text of UNSCR435 of 1978] ] The plan depended on an agreement of a so-called "D-Day" for the beginning of the ceasefire. However, South Africa had been drawn into the conflict in neighbouring Angola in an attempt to crack down on the SWAPO insurgency and made a new demand: the so-called "linkage" of the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola on the one hand and its own withdrawal from Namibia on the other. Other issues, such as the composition of the UNTAG forces and the status of Namibia's important port Walvis Bay, were to keep the parties from reaching an agreement on a ceasefire date for another ten years.

Brajesh Mishra

The next UNCN, Brajesh Mishra of India, served from 1982 to 1987.

Bernt Carlsson

Appointed on 1 July 1987, Bernt Carlsson of Sweden was the fourth and last UN Commissioner for Namibia and, within a year of his appointment, progress towards Namibian independence started to accelerate. In March 1988, Bernt Carlsson addressed the 'Seminar on the International Responsibility for the Independence of Namibia', which was held in Istanbul under the auspices of the UN Council for Namibia. Recalling that the UN had been seized of the South-West Africa problem for over forty years, Carlsson said: [cite conference
last = ATAÖV
first = TÜRKKAYA, Dr
title = Report of the United Nations Istanbul Seminar on the International Responsibility for the Independence of Namibia
pages = 13–27
place = Istanbul, Turkey
date = 21–25 March 1988
url = http://www.politics.ankara.edu.tr/dergi/pdf/43/1/2_turkkaya_ataov.pdf
accessdate = 2008-07-09

"The fact that the Namibian question remained unsolved had resulted in the continued repression and exploitation of the people. Furthermore, it presented a challenge to the authority of the United Nations. The continued illegal occupation of Namibia had also affected adversely the peace, security and development of the Southern Africa region as a whole." He added that 1988 was the tenth year of the adoption of the UN plan for the independence of Namibia, endorsed by Security Council Resolution 435 (1978).

Two months later, at the Reagan/Gorbachev summit in Moscow (29 May–1 June 1988), it was decided that Soviet military aid would cease and Cuban troops would be withdrawn from Angola, as soon as South Africa agreed to withdraw from Namibia. Agreements giving effect to those decisions were drawn up for signature later in 1988 at UN headquarters by Angola, Cuba and South Africa.

In October 1988, Bernt Carlsson was chatting to several foreign journalists in the international airport lounge in Luanda, the Angolan capital. Seventeen years later, Carlsson's conversation was reported by journalist Oakland Ross in the "Toronto Star" of 25 June 2005, as follows: [cite news
last = Ross
first = Oakland
title = Averting Disaster
publisher = Toronto Star
date = 2005-06-25
url = http://www.iiss.org/whats-new/iiss-in-the-press/press-coverage-2005/june-2005/averting-disaster
accessdate = 2008-07-09

"The Cold War was just then ending, the Berlin Wall was being torn down, and Carlsson opined that the driving force behind those seismic geopolitical changes was a new awareness that the old world order had to change, if only because our frail and disputatious species faced an even more implacable enemy on an even deadlier battleground. The foe, of course, was humankind itself. And the battleground was the natural environment, which was — and is — being despoiled at an enormous rate. World leaders, said Carlsson, were finally recognizing that it was time to put ideological differences aside in order to salvage the planet and preserve our place upon it. Maybe the urbane, soft-spoken Swede was right or maybe he was wrong. In either case, it's a parlous world, and a fragile existence. Not long after that brief conversation in an African airport, Carlsson was among the passengers aboard Pan American Airlines Flight 103 when it exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988 — the target of Libyan terrorists, with the loss of all on board."

Bernt Carlsson was killed in the Lockerbie bombing while travelling to the signing ceremony of the Namibian independence agreement at UN headquarters in New York City on 22 December 1988. [cite news
title = U.N. Officer on Flight 103
publisher = The New York Times
date = 1988-12-22
url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE4D9143EF931A15751C1A96E948260
accessdate = 2008-07-09
] His untimely death on Pan Am Flight 103 gave rise to one of seven unsubstantiated alternative theories of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, specifically the one by former British diplomat Patrick Haseldine blaming the South African government of the time. In October 2007, Haseldine petitioned prime minister Gordon Brown for a United Nations Inquiry into the death of UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson. [ [http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/UNInquiry/ Call for United Nations Inquiry into the death of UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing] ] Haseldine has previously been fired from government for making exactly these allegations.Fact|date=July 2008 The petition has failed to secure the minimum 200 votes required to be considered.

Transition to independence

Martti Ahtisaari returned to Namibia in April 1989 as the UN's Special Representative to head up the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG), which supervised the South African appointed Administrator-General, Louis Pienaar, and to oversee the decolonisation of Africa's last colony. [ [http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/orders_list.asp?show=226 Profile of Martti Ahtisaari] ]


On April 1, 1989 — "D-Day" for the peace plan — UNTAG units had not been fully deployed and those that were (mostly civilians and monitors) lacked equipment for both transportation and communication. Despite this, hopes were high, as an informal ceasefire had held for nearly seven months. However, in the early morning, SADF reported that heavily armed groups of SWAPO militants of the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) had begun crossing the border and establishing positions in northern Namibia which, if true, would have been a clear violation of the agreement that they should be confined to their Angolan bases. SWAPO denied that it had violated the terms of the agreement and claimed that its fighters had been going to turn in weapons to UNTAG and had been attacked by the SADF.

UNTAG's head, Martti Ahtisaari, came under pressure from British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was visiting Southern Africa at the time, and from South African foreign minister, Pik Botha, to allow SADF forces to leave their bases and repel the SWAPO incursions. Ahtisaari quickly decided to allow a limited deployment, and would later describe this decision as his most difficult. He told "The New York Times"::"We were in a restraining business, not releasing troops but trying to restrain them. Otherwise, the entire South African military might have gone after the Namibian guerillas, and I think they might have gone into Angola. By limiting South African retaliation to half a dozen army battalions and police units, the transition process was ultimately saved." [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE7D7103EF933A05750C0A966958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=1 In Namibia, UN's First Hurdle Was Highest] ]

A period of intense fighting followed with the SWAPO forces sustaining over 350 fatalities. [ [http://www.namibian.com.na/Netstories/Ops3-99/april1.html Let's not bury the April 1 killings] ]

New agreement

Hurried negotiations took place and a new agreement was reached on April 20, 1989 when SADF forces withdrew to base for 60 hours, allowing SWAPO militants to withdraw peacefully. The SADF were then given two weeks to confirm that SWAPO had indeed left Namibia and also to capture any weapons caches discovered. This agreement was stuck to by both sides, though Ahtisaari and the UN Secretary-General were nervous about the length of time the SADF were out of their bases, and pushed hard to get them back to barracks. Despite these reservations, the withdrawal and verification passed without incident and by the end UNTAG was almost fully deployed, albeit a month behind schedule.

In October 1989, under orders of the UN Security Council, Pretoria was forced to demobilize some 1,600 members of Koevoet (Afrikaans for "crowbar"). The Koevoet issue had been one of the most difficult UNTAG faced. This counter-insurgency unit was formed by South Africa after the adoption of UNSCR 435, and was not, therefore, mentioned in the Settlement Proposal or related documents. The UN regarded Koevoet as a paramilitary unit which ought to be disbanded but the unit continued to deploy in the north in armoured and heavily armed convoys. In June 1989, the Special Representative told the Administrator-General that this behaviour was totally inconsistent with the Settlement Proposal, which required the police to be lightly armed. Moreover, the vast majority of the Koevoet personnel were quite unsuited for continued employment in the South West African Police (SWAPOL). The Security Council, in its resolution 640 (1989) of August 29, therefore demanded the disbanding of Koevoet and dismantling of its command structures. South African foreign minister, Pik Botha, announced on September 28, 1989 that 1,200 ex-Koevoet members would be demobilized with effect from the following day. A further 400 such personnel were demobilized on October 30. These demobilizations were supervised by UNTAG military monitors. [ [http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/co_mission/untagFT.htm United Nations Transition Assistance Group] ]

Peaceful end

The 11-month transition period ended relatively smoothly. Political prisoners were granted amnesty, discriminatory legislation was repealed, South Africa withdrew all its forces from Namibia, and some 42,000 refugees returned safely and voluntarily under the auspices of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Almost 98% of registered voters turned out to elect members of the Constituent Assembly. The elections were held in November 1989 and were certified as free and fair by the UN Special Representative, with SWAPO taking 57% of the vote, just short of the two-thirds necessary to have a free hand in revising the framework constitution. The opposition Democratic Turnhalle Alliance received 29% of the vote. The Constituent Assembly held its first meeting on November 21, 1989 and resolved unanimously to use the 1982 Constitutional Principles in Namibia's new constitution.

(According to "The Guardian" of July 26, 1991, Pik Botha told a press conference that the South African government had paid more than £20 million to at least seven political parties in Namibia to oppose SWAPO in the run-up to the 1989 elections. He justified the expenditure on the grounds that "South Africa was at war with SWAPO" at the time.)

Independence day

Independence Day on March 21, 1990 was celebrated in Windhoek's sports stadium which was attended by numerous international representatives, including the main players, the UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar and President of South Africa F W de Klerk, who jointly conferred formal independence on Namibia. Sam Nujoma was sworn in as the first President of Namibia watched by Nelson Mandela (just released from prison) and representatives from 147 countries, including 20 heads of state. [ [http://www.klausdierks.com/Chronology/132.htm Chronology of Namibian Independence] ]

On March 1, 1994, the coastal enclave of Walvis Bay and 12 offshore islands were transferred to Namibia by South Africa. This followed 3 years of bilateral negotiations between the two governments and the establishment of a transitional Joint Administrative Authority (JAA) in November 1992 to administer the 780 km² (300 square mile) territory. The peaceful resolution of this territorial dispute was praised by the international community, as it fulfilled the provisions of UNSCR 432 (1978), which declared Walvis Bay to be an integral part of Namibia.


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