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Media Statement: National Consultative Workshop on South Africa’s Human Rights’ Treaty Obligations

7 December 2017

Statement by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP

1. Since the advent of the democratic era in South Africa in 1994, South Africa ratified various international human rights treaties. These treaties require periodic country reporting where countries report on the progress they have made in realising the human rights provided for in a specific treaty.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) 2017

2. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process is a review undertaken by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States every four years.  It provides the opportunity for each State under Review to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations. The UPR is a unique and transversal process – cutting across all aspects of human rights.

3. South Africa was initially reviewed in 2008 (first cycle) and again in 2012 (second cycle). South Africa submitted its Third Cycle National Report to the UNHRC in February 2017 and it was published by the HRC on 11 April 2017.  The South African delegation, which I headed, presented South Africa’s Report on 10 May 2017, to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

4. As part of the outcomes of this Third Cycle review, South Africa received 243 recommendations for implementation during the next four years before the next reporting cycle.

5. On 22 September 2017 the South African delegation returned to the United Nations Human Rights Council to present its response to the recommendations received. South Africa committed to implementing 187 of the 243 recommendations. Some of the recommendations on key strategic issues which South Africa has committed to implement and report back on in the next four years include:

  • Hate Crime, Hate Speech Bill, National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Non-Discrimination;
  • Social Cohesion, Nation Building and Promotion of the National Development Plan;
  • Protection of vulnerable groups falling within the following: Albinism, LGBTI;
  • Improvement of Law Enforcement, Elimination of Crime and Corruption, Promotion of Human Rights Education and Training and Improvement of Conditions of Detention;
  • Promotion of the Constitutional and Legislative Framework and the Administration of Justice and Fair Trial; and,
  • Protection of the Freedom of Expression and Opinion.

6. The recommendations which South Africa has ‘noted’ i.e. those not yet accepted or which are still under consideration, relate to:

  • Ratification of Treaties and ILO Conventions relating to: Right to Work, Migrants and their Families; Stateless Persons and Statelessness; Indigenous and Tribal Persons; Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights;
  • Commitment to e-governance reforms;
  • Ensuring that intelligence agencies are monitored by oversight bodies;
  • Exploring universal basic income in the place of the existing social protection scheme;
  • Developing legislative processes for the establishment of mandatory retirement benefits for people who retire due to old age or disability;
  • Expediting Women’s Empowerment Bill and Gender Equality Bill; and,
  • Reconsidering the withdrawal from the ICC and upholding South Africa’s obligations under the Rome Statute.

7. Some 34 countries responded to South Africa’s Report as well as the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and 22 NGOs. The SAHRC commended the South African government for their extensive participation in the Third Cycle of the UPR mechanism and noted the significant advances made since the last review process.

Other treaty obligations:

8. In 2016, I headed various delegations to engage with the UN Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as to the Gambia to engage with the African Commission on South Africa’s periodic African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) country reports.  The respective Committees and Treaty Bodies considered South Africa’s country reports and issued various recommendations and concluding observations to which South Africa has had to provide State Responses.

9. In 2017, South Africa submitted State Responses to the CERD and ICCPR Committees and will be reporting fully on all the recommendations or concluding observations made by the respective committees by the next periodic deadline. The majority of the recommendations are cross-cutting and need to be implemented by the government departments. The implementation and progress thereof is then the subject matter of future country reports.

The National Consultative Workshop on South Africa’s Human Rights Treaty Obligations:

10. We gave an undertaking to the UNHRC that we will further popularize the UPR in the country and will conduct workshops on the issues raised, whilst the recommendations are work in progress.

11. Since the recommendations received from the various treaty bodies are cross-cutting and in many instances deal with the same issues, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development which is responsible for these particular human rights treaties, initiated a process with the hosting of this Workshop to give attention to the following key issues:

  • Updating progress on the recommendations received during the cycle of reporting;
  • Reporting to internal monitoring mechanisms of government (various departments) with a view to reporting on progress; policy structures within government will be expected to take further decisions on the implementation of all the acceptable recommendations.
  • The same structures are also to provide feedback on the various recommendations.
  • A strategy to be developed to enhance partnerships with Chapter 9 institutions, civil society as well as other spheres of government in order to raise national public awareness on the UPR Process and on South Africa’s compliance with its international human rights treaty obligations.

12. The Workshop, which is to take place on 7 and 8 December, will see all lead government departments, Chapter Nine institutions, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) meeting and engaging with the recommendations and concluding observations received from the various treaty bodies.

13. Engagements such as these provide a process of scrutiny into a country’s human rights situation and recommits us to the attainment of human rights in our own country, our continent and the world.