UN/SC/Resolution 435

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Event.png UN/SC/Resolution 435  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png

United Nations Security Council Resolution 435, adopted on 29 September 1978, set out a series of measures to secure independence for Namibia which had been under illegal occupation by apartheid South Africa since 1971.

UNSCR 435 provided for the establishment of a United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) which would oversee both a universal franchise election in Namibia and South African withdrawal.

Resolution 435 was adopted by 12 votes to none: Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union abstained; while the People's Republic of China did not participate in the vote.[1]

Background to UNSCR 435

In its first resolution on the question, the UN Security Council, in 1969, recognised the termination of the Mandate, described the continued presence of South Africa as illegal, and called on South Africa to withdraw its administration immediately. In 1970, the Security Council declared for the first time that all acts taken by South Africa concerning Namibia after the termination of the mandate were "illegal and invalid". This view was upheld in 1971 by the International Court of Justice, which stated that South Africa's presence was illegal, and that South Africa was under obligation to withdraw its administration. South Africa, however, refused to comply with the UN resolutions, and continued its illegal administration of Namibia, including the imposition of apartheid laws, the bantustanisation of the Territory, and the exploitation of its resources.

In 1978, Canada, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States (the so-called Contact Group) submitted to the UN Security Council a proposal for settling the question of Namibia. According to the proposal, elections for a Constituent Assembly would be held under United Nations auspices. Every stage of the electoral process would be conducted to the satisfaction of a Special Representative for Namibia appointed by the UN Secretary-General. The plan envisaged that a UN Transition Assistance Group would be at the disposal of the Special Representative to help him supervise the political process and to ensure that all parties observed all provisions of an agreed solution. By UNSCR 435 (1978), the Security Council endorsed the Contact Group plan for Namibia.

Delaying tactics

In 1980, South Africa accepted the plan proposed by the five Powers and in 1981 participated in a pre-implementation meeting at Geneva. However, South Africa did not agree to proceed towards a ceasefire, one of the conditions set by UNSCR 435. Negotiations were again stalled when South Africa – encouraged by US Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker – attached new conditions which the United Nations did not accept, in particular one which linked the independence of Namibia with the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. In the following years, the UN Secretary-General and his Special Representative travelled extensively throughout southern Africa, discussing problems, clarifying positions, exploring new concepts and exchanging views with all parties. Various countries promoted talks on the issue — among them the five Western sponsors of the 1978 proposal (the Contact Group), the Frontline States and the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) representing Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.[2]

At the May 1988 Reagan/Gorbachev summit in Moscow, it was decided that Cuban troops would be withdrawn from Angola, and Soviet military aid would cease, as soon as South Africa withdrew from Namibia. In the seven months following the Moscow summit, Chester Crocker headed a US mediation team in a quick succession of talks between negotiators from Angola, Cuba and South Africa, and observers from the Soviet Union, first in London then in New York, Geneva, Cairo, and Cape Verde. The talks were aimed at implementing UN Security Council Resolution 435 to secure Namibian independence and at a negotiated regional peace settlement for Southern Africa. The Congo's capital Brazzaville hosted the final round of negotiations culminating in the Brazzaville Protocol which representatives of Angola, Cuba and South Africa initialled on Tuesday 13 December 1988, witnessed by Chester Crocker.[3]


On Thursday 22 December 1988, South Africa finally agreed to implement UNSCR 435/78 upon signature by Foreign Minister Pik Botha of the New York Accords at UN headquarters, giving effect to the Brazzaville Protocol.

US Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who attended the signing ceremony, described the Accords as "a momentous turning point in the history of Southern Africa."

Chester Crocker was also at the ceremony in New York but UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, who would have assumed control of the country until Namibia's first universal franchise elections had taken place, was absent being one of 259 passengers and crew killed when Pan Am Flight 103 crashed at Lockerbie on 21 December 1988.[4]

Condolence for Carlsson

Like the other speakers, George Shultz prefaced his remarks with words of condolence for relatives and friends of those killed in the plane crash in Scotland on Wednesday:

"The victims included Bernt Carlsson of Sweden, the chief administrative officer of the United Nations Council for Namibia, who was returning to New York for today's ceremony."[5]

Sweden barred

In December 1988, Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson's Swedish namesake Bernt Carlsson, UN Commissioner for Namibia, was targeted by apartheid South Africa and killed when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.

In January 1989, it became clear that South Africa wanted to bar Sweden from contributing troops to the United Nations Transition Assistance Group which would ensure Namibia's progress towards independence from the apartheid regime's illegal occupation. PM Ingvar Carlsson reacted angrily when addressing a conference on Southern Africa organised by the Socialist International in Harare on 15 February 1989:

"It has been reported that South Africa does not wish to see any Swedes in the UN operation. We have been accused of not being impartial enough. Negotiations are still going on at the United Nations, but I want to make two things very clear:

"1. No person and no nation can be neutral in the struggle against apartheid and for independence. Not even the United Nations is neutral, that is what UNSCR 435 is all about.

"2. Sweden may or may not participate in the United Nations forces in Namibia. We are still preparing to do so. But whatever the outcome of the negotiations in New York, I can assure you that South Africa will never be able to prevent the government of Sweden or the people of Sweden, from giving political support to the process of independence in Namibia. And our commitment to initiate development co-operation with a future independent and democratic Namibia is as firm as ever."

Five days later UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar informed the Social Democratic government that due to South Africa’s opposition the United Nations would not request any military contribution to UNTAG from Sweden.

Back in Stockholm, Ingvar Carlsson regretted the decision, commenting:

"It goes without saying that Swedes in the service of the United Nations must act impartially. They represent the United Nations, not Sweden. It is equally natural that the Swedish government has condemned South Africa’s illegal occupation of Namibia and – in accordance with appeals from the UN General Assembly – has given humanitarian assistance to the liberation movement, SWAPO. There is no contradiction between these two viewpoints. Sweden’s offer to participate in UNTAG was for us a natural link between earlier and future support for Namibia’s people. The amount that the UN operation was estimated to cost us – about 200 million SEK – will now be set aside for development co-operation efforts for a free and independent Namibia."[6]

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