Yadhana Jadoo
Political Editor
3 minute read
3 Mar 2016
1:30 pm

UN probes SA human rights

Yadhana Jadoo

South Africa will be in the spotlight next week when its human rights record is reviewed by the United Nations for the first time.

South African flag. Picture: Refilwe Modise

The review, by the Human Rights Committee sitting in Geneva, comes at a time of unsteadiness in the country’s political and social climate. However, constitutional law expert Shadrack Gutto said that for there to be meaningful change in the country, issues including racism, poverty and transformation need to be discussed in their broad framework.

“I think that if the review team is serious – across the spectrum – they will see so many errors where human rights are undermined. It’s not just about the shocking incidents we have seen, but the struggle by students to transform universities, the lack of transformation of academia and curriculum, and treatment of different ethnic groups that will come out. These have made headlines globally.”

He added that “we won’t acquit ourselves properly or adequately”, given the current recorded incidents pertaining to human rights.

“Those issues are just some examples that are on record and we will be judged on that. “In its mission to Geneva, South African ambassadors are expected to represent the country, as required as one of the 168 states that have ratified the International Covenant on Civil an Political Rights. South Africa will be required to undergo the review by the UN Human Rights Committee on how it is implementing the covenant.

According to the UN, South Africa submitted a report to the committee on the implementations of its human rights obligations. Non-governmental organisations have also sent report for consideration.

In a list of issues the UN seeks to gain clarity on, a number of occurrences which has recently gripped the country. It asks South Africa to provide information and specific measures taken to combat manifestations of racism and xenophobia, to ensure these cases are investigated effectively, and those responsible are appropriately sanctioned. This includes law enforcement officials have been involved in the relevant incidents

It further points to excessive force by police, allegations that some prisoners have been subjected to electric shock treatment and psychotropic drugs, and requires the “updated information on Marikana where 44 miners lost their lives, reportedly as a result of action taken by the South African Police Service”.

The committee must also be informed about measures taken to prevent and punish sexual and gender-based violence.

South Africa in its response, pointed to legislation protecting women’s rights and equity, policy framework, special focus on public order policing as recommended by the Farlam Commission of Inquiry on Marikana, task teams put in place to deal with xenophobia, and a policy by the SAPS on the prevention of torture and treatment of persons in custody, to name a few.

But Gutto said while South Africa was good at developing policies, it lacked in implementing these. The issue of human rights was broad, he said, and one of the issues that may require focus in Geneva could be on issues of land reform and property ownership.

“We also have questions around economic transformation, issues in mining and manufacturing – the review won’t just touch the surface but look at the structure of the political economy and inequality.

“Poverty is a serious issue and people who are poor – their lives transgress in many spheres including in education, health, housing.”

Look out for regular updates on the submissions made to the UN Human Rights Committee in upcoming editions of The Citizen newspaper and online