Archive for the 'South Africa' Category

Rights activists urge South Africa to ‘vote like a democracy’ on Security Council, recall poor voting record of prior term

GENEVA, October 12, 2010 – UN Watch congratulated Colombia, Germany, India and South Africa on their election as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council for 2011-2012.

In regard to South Africa, UN watch executive director Hillel Neuer said it was “important that a major African democracy be represented on the council.”At the same time, Neuer recalled that during South Africa’s previous term at the Security Council, in 2007-2008, “there were serious concerns expressed by civil society groups regarding that country’s voting record on critical human rights issues. At the time, UN Watch and other human rights groups had objected to a series of decisions where South Africa used its seat on the Security Council to stand with the perpetrators instead of the victims.”

For example, said Neuer, in 2007, “South Africa joined China and Russia as the sole members to oppose a resolution urging Burma to free political detainees and end sexual violence by the military. Pretoria helped hardliners Moscow and Beijing to kill the text, shielding the generals of Rangoon.”

“In that same year, South Africa outdid even Saudi Arabia in opposing or refusing to support resolutions for victims of human rights violations in Belarus, Burma, Iran, and North Korea. When questions arose over this policy-which South Africa’s own Archbishop Desmond Tutu called ‘a betrayal of our noble past’, the government’s reaction was to lash out,” said Neuer.

“We urge South Africa – as a leading democracy with a vital role to play in world affairs – to ensure that this time, whenever vital human rights issues are at stake at the UN, it will vote like a democracy.”

South Africa betrays principles on gay rights

By Marissa Cramer, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fellow at UN Watch

Human rights activists and other UN observers were surprised by South Africa’s opposition to recognizing gay rights during recent negotiations on the outcome document for the Durban Review Conference, whose stated aim is to combat racism, discrimination, and intolerance of any kind. The South African representative said that issues of sexual orientation go “beyond the framework of the Durban Declaration.”

The European Union had proposed a while back that the Durban II declaration include protection for gays. However, after strong opposition from Muslim governments, who invoked the omission of gay rights in the 2001 Durban text, the United Kingdom on February 18th suggested an amendment to list sexual orientation only as an aggravating factor, when it intersects with racism. This U.K. proposal prompted South Africa’s response.

The irony of South Africa’s opposition to recognizing gay rights is that it betrays the principles of its own constitution, which states:

Continue reading ‘South Africa betrays principles on gay rights’

South Africa Opposes UN Human Rights Resolutions

The following op-ed appeared in today’s Sunday Times of South Africa.

South Africa at the UN: Your Freedom and Mine

Hillel Neuer

At the United Nations recently, South Africa outdid even Saudi Arabia in opposing or refusing to support resolutions for victims of human rights violations in Belarus, Burma, Iran, and North Korea. When questions arose over this policy, criticised in March by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as “a betrayal of our noble past”, the government’s reaction was to lash out. It would do far better to simply respond to the legitimate concerns of its citizens.

The current debate emerged in local newspapers and on national radio after an exposé in a recent issue of the Sunday Times, citing data from non- governmental organisations (NGOs), including the Switzerland-based UN Watch. But for observers of the world body the government’s latest votes were all too familiar, part of an increasingly long line of decisions in 2007 that have seen South Africa stand with the perpetrators instead of the victims.

In January this year, shortly after assuming its two-year seat on the Security Council, South Africa joined China and Russia as the sole members to oppose a resolution urging Burma to free political detainees and end sexual violence by the military. South Africa has often dismissed such initiatives as campaigns by the wealthy North. Yet if Ghana, Panama and Peru could support the text — and Congo, Indonesia and Qatar could quietly abstain — why did Pretoria help hardliners Moscow and Beijing to kill the text, shielding the generals of Rangoon?

Here, as elsewhere, South Africa gave technical reasons. The resolution, said UN ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, treated issues “best left to the Human Rights Council.”

To call this disingenuous would be an understatement. Not only had the majority of the new council proclaimed a strict policy of blocking consideration of country situations, but South Africa was a vocal proponent. It actively voted in March to discontinue scrutiny of violations by Iran and Uzbekistan. On June 12, it urged members to “terminate all country mandates.” The result? A week later, the independent experts into abuses in Cuba and Belarus saw their mandates permanently scrapped.

In an October study by the Democracy Coalition Project, countries were measured by their support for mechanisms addressing violations in specific countries (like Burma), ensuring the much-touted universal review of all states would be more than a toothless exercise and protecting the independence of country and thematic investigators. In all cases, South Africa was found to be on the wrong side, among those acting to eviscerate Kofi Annan’s original plan for an effective council.

It is time for Pretoria to answer some basic questions:

  • Was Burma’s suffering really “best left to the Human Rights Council”? After the Security Council resolution was blocked, the Human Rights Council predictably said and did absolutely nothing, until long after it was too late. If either body had demonstrated timely resolve, would that have helped to prevent Burma’s bloody arrest of thousands of peacefully demonstrating monks last month — and the killings?
  • The government claims human rights victims are better helped by “quiet diplomacy”. Yet the victims implore the international community to shine a spotlight on abuses their governments seek to hide. From Burma it was Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy who urged the Security Council to speak out. Similarly, from Darfur to Cuba, dissidents and victims come to the Human Rights Council pleading for public action. Does South Africa know something the victims do not?
  • Why, in July, did South Africa join a minority of 13 countries in opposing UN accreditation of a Canadian gay rights NGO?
    Ambassador Kumalo insists his policy is to defend “the rules”. Yet when the Human Rights Council rammed through a set of changes in its midnight manoeuvre on June 19 — famously denying Canada its right to vote and then pretending there was “a consensus”— why was South Africa complicit in this unprecedented trampling of basic procedures?
  • As the greatest beneficiary of UN human rights action to help end apartheid, can South Africa now deny help to others?
  • Why did Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad try to tarnish independent NGOs, falsely claiming they were funded by “major Western powers” and behind a “campaign” against South Africa?

The truth is that the activists for political prisoners in Havana, Minsk and Pyongyang are of the same movement that fought for Nelson Mandela.

South Africa should not forget his famous words: “Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.”

Hillel Neuer is executive director of UN Watch in Geneva.

South Africa’s UN Votes Against Human Rights

South Africa is abuzz after its Sunday Times, citing UN Watch analysis, published an exposé of the country’s negative voting record on human rights issues at the United Nations. The story has since been published by the BuaNews wire service, SABC and other South African and international media.

The Times story revealed how South Africa consistently votes at the UN with the likes of Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia, instead of standing in solidarity with human rights victims. However, the UN Watch report cited by the Times was actually released in May 2007 — and not last week as reported. Our study, Dawn of A New Era?, measured all 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council based on 20 key votes. (See pages 26-27 of the report, or 31-32 in your PDF viewer.) South Africa’s score lies at the bottom with a grade of minus 16, tied with countries like Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

(It should be noted that South Africa was also rated at the bottom in a more recent study by a separate non-governmental organization, the Democracy Coalition Project, which measured country support — or opposition — for credible and effective UN human rights mechanisms. For South Africa’s ratings, see page 2 of that report here.)

Our survey of the first year of the Council looked at every country resolution, including measures for the victims of Darfur, as well as resolutions that support mechanisms of human rights scrutiny or that concerned freedom of speech. Regrettably, South Africa voted consistently at the UN in solidarity with the perpetrators of human rights violations, instead of with the victims.

The South African government’s response, published on its website, suggests that they never read our report. They claim that our study only looked at one agenda item and was not “holistic.” In fact, however, a quick glance at our report’s methodology, outlined in detail at page 5, shows that it covered a broad range of key issues and agenda items. To assess the Council’s performance, we focused on its most meaningful human rights actions, including resolutions and motions that were widely considered among HRC stakeholders to be important and were treated as such by members through their statements and actions.

The most important class of resolutions for diplomats and human rights activists has always been the “name and shame” votes where a specific country is censured. In addition, our report also reviewed other meaningful votes such as:

  • Two Islamic-group texts on “incitement to racial and religious hatred” and “combating defamation of religions.” These resolutions seek to suppress perceived offenses against Islam — and even to justify violent reactions thereto — and are inconsistent not only with free speech protections but with the fundamental principle that international human rights law protects individuals, not religions.
  • A resolution sponsored by the African Group imposing a “code of conduct” on human rights monitors and a resolution by China for the “Like Minded Group” limiting the independence of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Both of these are acts of intimidation by regimes interested in hiding their abuses, and the way in which countries voted demonstrated their commitment to protecting the UN’s non-political human rights mechanisms.
  • A resolution by China and the Like Minded Group on “globalization and its impact on the full enjoyment of all human rights” suggesting, nonsensically, that globalization negatively impacts all human rights.
  • A Cuban-sponsored resolution requiring the Secretary-General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to consider and report to the Council on “the negative impact on populations” of “unilateral coercive measures”— a political jab at the United States for its trade embargo against Cuba.
  • A successful motion by Islamic states to postpone three thematic resolutions sponsored by Canada, introduced solely out of retaliatory spite after Canada voted “no” on the Islamic group’s fifth and sixth censures of Israel.

The government statement also made some ad hominem attacks on UN Watch that were ill-considered and inaccurate. We shall respond in due course.