Johannesburg – South Africa missed several opportunities to place respect for human rights at the centre of its foreign policy, Human Rights Watch says in its World Report 2017.- Read the report here.It singled out ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe for dismissing protests against police brutality in Zimbabwe as “sponsored elements seeking regime change”. The annual review of human rights issues around the globe was released in Washington on Thursday.“[South Africa] remained silent in the face of a rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe. South Africa did not press Zimbabwe to end police brutality and respect the rights of protesters.”It however acknowledged that South Africa played an active mediation role in Zimbabwe, as part of the Southern African Development Community, and in Lesotho’s political crisis that followed a failed military coup in August 2014.UN votesHuman Rights Watch said South Africa’s votes at the United Nations ran counter to its stated human rights principles. It voted against a UN Human Rights Council resolution on the protection of human rights on the internet.South Africa abstained on a key UN Human Rights Commission vote to appoint an independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.“The abstention went against the country’s strong constitutional protections and domestic laws around sexual orientation and gender identity.”South Africa had however since voted to allow Vitit Muntarbhorn, the newly-appointed UN expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, to continue his work.Reference was also made to South Africa’s notice to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. This followed the government’s failure to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he was in South Africa for a two-day AU summit in June 2015. Subsequent court judgments have criticised it for not detaining him.The ICC wants Bashir to stand trial on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes allegedly committed in Darfur.“Various individuals and organisations, including human rights activists and jurists, in South Africa expressed dismay that their government submitted a notification of withdrawal without parliamentary authorisation,” the report states.