This Day in International Law: November 4th

By Maribeth Lock

Apartheid was a system of racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa that began in the 1940s and persisted until the 1990s. On this day in 1977, the United Nations Security Council responded to the South African National Party’s continued imposition of apartheid by unanimously passing Resolution 418, a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa. This resolution followed the Security Council’s Resolution 282 (1970), which urged member states to participate in a voluntary arms embargo. The Security Council had also recently passed Resolution 392 (1975), which condemned the South African Government for its use of violence to enforce apartheid.

The impact to South Africa of the arms embargo was mixed. South Africa experienced immediate order cancellations of military goods from abroad, including submarines, fighter aircrafts, a missile boat, and enriched uranium. This had a direct impact on its ability to fight the South African Border War and to maintain its SAFARI-1 research nuclear reactor. However, the embargo prompted South Africa to further develop its domestic arms industry into what is today a multi-billion dollar industry. South Africa was also able to circumvent the embargo by smuggling and by hiring foreign technicians.

Ultimately, apartheid did not officially end until 1994. The country’s economic recession, combined with the continued protests and violence, made it clear to the South African Government and its observers that apartheid was not producing desirable socio-economic results. In 1989, F.W. de Klerk took control of the National Party and began to broker the end of apartheid. De Klerk’s administration repealed most of the legislation on which apartheid was based, and in 1994 it passed a new constitution that provided for democratic elections and enfranchised non-whites. The Security Council responded by repealing the 1977 arms embargo and all other restrictions against South Africa with its passing of Resolution 919.