Toothless lapdog

2011-05-12 00:00

DEAR Human Rights Commission,

My widely reported statement that you are "meek, weak and largely a waste of money" demands a public explanation for those who could not hear it in the justice committee conference, hence this open letter.

Four years ago the ad hoc parliamentary­ committee, led by Professor Kadar Asmal, produced a report showing how you have misunderstood your role and served too much as an adviser to the government­, rather than the potential­ antagonist to the government that our Constitution wants you to be.

You have now come before my justice committee to tell us that one school in five abuses our children­ and that you are to write a report about it. When I receive it, it will go straight into my rubbish­ bin. I would prefer to know why you have not already had any of the teachers implicated arrested and held high as an example so as to bring all others into compliance with our laws and Constitution.

I tell you that European human rights groups report cases of corrective or curative rape practised against lesbians and tolerated in our communities and you tell me that you will engage the institutions that are reviewing cultural practices. No, these are not cultural practices, but criminal human­ rights abuse which the law and the Constitution demand you put a stop to.

Your job is to slam a few perpetrators­ against the wall and ensure their punishment so that others may be educated.

A mere 20 years ago there were no human rights in this country. Married women, including our mothers and sisters, were regarded as minors. Sex was a crime when practised across racial divides­ or between the same gender. Abuse was regarded as a standard way of raising children, domestic violence was acceptable or left within families' privacy, employees­ were abused, vilification was a tool of corporate management and the press was not free. The list could go on. All the laws are now in place, but it takes generations to change bad habits that were formed in a country left centuries­ behind human rights developments in a democratic world.

Under the current conditions, your job is not to state the obvious with never-ending declarations of principles, but rather to panel- beat a new society into constitutional shape. If it were a matter of merely studying or reporting human rights abuses in South Africa­, we would not need you. Amnesty International and many non-governmental organisations (NGO) could do a much better job at a fraction of the cost to taxpayers.

The difference between you and Amnesty International is that you have the statutory power to act against perpetrators, to bring actions against them and to act as the constitutional antagonist of any organ of state that fails in its duty or breaches human rights. If you were merely about holding conferences, workshops and road shows, we should give our money to our NGOs that could do better and less expensively.

Thus far, some of our NGOs, with minuscule budgets, have achieved more than you by bringing successful litigation against the government to stop human rights abuses. You were nowhere to be seen or heard when they took the government to court in respect of the genocide-type failure to distribute antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, to defend the rights of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers, to protect the freedom of the press and to protect our right to associate with the Dalai Lama, and so on.

Actually, you are nowhere to be seen or heard whenever something terrible happens and your neglected duty to express public outcry and indignation for human rights violations has been picked up by our media.

Your participation in conferences held in luxury resorts worldwide does no good to anyone. Under our committee's pressure, you have now committed yourself to scale this down to six international conferences a year. You should not leave South Africa at all, but rather let your deeds speak to the world about how you have changes for South African society.

I am just a minority voice in the justice committee, but if it were up to me, I would cut your budget in half until you show results, not on paper, but in the trenches of the struggle to change South Africa.

I am told that you are working on getting South Africa to participate in an international convention against torture when we have legislation criminalising torture in our jails. You should be working in our jails rather than in posh international forums to sign yet another­ piece of paper which will create yet another bureaucracy justifying its existence with yet another report, workshop or road show while the blood of innocent victims continues to stain our country's prison cells.

• Mario GR Oriani-Ambrosini is an MP and Inkatha Freedom Party spokesperson on justice.

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