Human Rights Watch slams SA’s rights record

2018-01-21 05:46
Hundreds of Congolese nationals in Yeoville marched against President Joseph Kabila, a perpetrator of human rights violations. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

Hundreds of Congolese nationals in Yeoville marched against President Joseph Kabila, a perpetrator of human rights violations. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

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Despite a robust and independent judiciary to protect the rule of law, South Africa’s human rights record remained poor in 2017, according to a Human Rights Watch report titled Fighting for Rights Succeeds.

South Africa is one of six southern African countries where human rights abuses have raised serious concerns.

According to the report, which investigated human rights abuse in the region, “crime, corruption and poverty – compounded by high unemployment and limited opportunities to generate income – significantly restricted South Africans from enjoying their human rights”.

Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said:

“South Africa is the region’s political and economic powerhouse, and as chair of the Southern African Development Community until August, this is an opportunity for the country to promote human rights across the region.”

The report also mentioned South Africa’s plans to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Mavhinga said as a founding member of the court, South Africa should “reclaim its moral high ground in terms of leadership in the human rights space”.

Other southern African countries accused of human rights abuse include Angola, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

“We call on southern African leaders to do more to uphold human rights and meet the basic needs of the people,” said Mavhinga.

He said the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the ruling party has given South Africa the opportunity to place human rights at the centre of its domestic and foreign policy agenda.

The report also alluded to the Life Esidimeni tragedy in which 143 mentally ill patients died after being transferred to unlicensed nongovernmental organisations.

Pierre de Vos, constitutional law expert, said:

“What is needed is for those who promote human rights in South Africa to embrace the idea that civil and political rights and social and economic rights are indivisible.

“If inequality is not addressed, many South Africans might well conclude that rights are only for the privileged.”

Political analyst Levy Ndou said the report was an important tool to help South Africa make an honest assessment about its progress as a nation.

“The government of South Africa has made tremendous progress in the fight against human rights abuse,” he said.

Ndou argued that the report’s findings do not reflect the reality of life in South Africa.

Ralph Mathekga, another political analyst, said South Africa was founded on the struggle for human rights and therefore could not ignore the report.

“Corruption is fundamentally corrosive to human rights.

“The increase in cases of violence against women and children is also worrying. There doesn’t seem to be an urgency from government to prioritise this challenge,” he said.

Regarding South Africa’s withdrawal from the ICC, Mathekga said: “This is an unfortunate development. I think South Africa’s response has been hasty and sets the wrong precedent for the continent.”

However, Frans Cronje, chief executive officer of the SA Institute of Race Relations, does not believe watchdog institutions can influence nations to uphold human rights.

“The idea that strong institutions and a nice Constitution can guarantee good living standards is a myth.

Institutions and rules are useful but if economic policymaking is counterproductive, the institutions have limited influence.”

He cited the fact that young men were far more likely to be victims of violence than women and said this was often lost in foreign institutions’ analysis of the country’s crime problem.

He said the problem was not the absence of a strategy to deal with violence against women but the police’s failure to create the management capacity to protect citizens.

Cronje said if Ramaphosa suspected citizens would hold his government to account, then he might be an excellent leader.

He said: “It’s more up to them than him.”

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