Address by Minister Dlamini Zuma to the 58th Session of the Human Rights Commission, Geneva, 20th March 2002

Distinguished Chairperson


My delegation joins the previous speakers in congratulating you on your deserved election to the position of Chairman of this session of the Commission on Human Rights. We also extend our warm congratulations to all Members of your Bureau. We all look forward to your inspiring leadership to guide us through the times ahead. Our delegation will co-operate with you to ensure the success of this session.


I take this opportunity to pay special tribute to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson for a sterling leadership demonstrated in the build up and the eventual success of the Durban Conference Against Racism. Of particular significance were the High Commissioner’s tireless efforts to place the plight of the Victims of Racism at the heart of the outcome of the Conference. Your invaluable contribution and leadership you provided to the Commission will be missed Madam.


Chairperson


As it maybe recalled it was this month almost four decades ago in 1961, March 21 that those who had imposed their rule over us through a barrel of the gun mowed down 69 unarmed Africans and maimed scores of people on that fateful day of peaceful protest. This act of barbarity and savagery was condemned world-wide. Subsequently, the Sharpville massacre became a rallying cry against the flagrant and gross abrogation of human rights in South Africa and the declaration of the system of apartheid: a crime against humanity by the United Nations General Assembly.

Directly responding to this situation almost a quarter of century later Nelson Mandela our first democratically President had this to say about the new South Africa " Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world".

In pursuance of the activities that entrench a human rights culture, the month of March 2002 has been declared a human rights month in our country. This initiative coincide with the call of our President Thabo Mbeki for the "letsema" meaning to volunteer to take action to help improve the lives of our people. During the human rights month volunteers will mobilise the skills and resources of every community member to transform the justice system so that our courts become user-friendly and accessible to the communities that they serve. This will also entail regular visits to courts and teaching people about their human rights.


Through the "letsema" programme for this month, we are also dealing with the question of gender equality informed by an understanding that Women’s Rights are Human Rights. For a long time the question of empowerment of women has been relegated to the periphery. Countries must move from words to action with respect to gender mainstreaming in policies they adopt. While South Africa has made commendable progress with regard to opening of opportunities for women in all spheres of life, we must remain vigilant on the gains achieved thus far. Equally important is the pressing need for all countries to expunge from their statutory books any anachronistic laws that hinder the advancement of women. The question of gender equality should not be dealt with as an irritant but it must be pursued systematically, decisively and resolutely.


Distinguished Chairperson


In the short time since our young democracy in 1994, a lot has been accomplished in the context of promotion and protection of human rights in South Africa. The democratically elected Government as a first measure enshrined the Bill of Rights in our Constitution. We have signed and ratified all but one International Human Rights Instruments. We have adopted a National Human Rights Action Plan and established a National Human Rights Commission that is fully functional and undertaking a national human rights education as well as monitoring the Government’s performance in the promotion and

protection of human rights and prevention of their violation.


Chairperson


As we gather this year in yet another session of the Commission of Human Rights it is appropriate to respond honestly and frankly to the question, whether we are making any progress in addressing crucial areas such as human liberty, human dignity and human

development which will ultimately impact on the lives of every single human being on earth. If we all agree, as we surely must, that we in fact constitute the world human rights parliament, we must respond to the above without equivocation.


Last year in Durban South Africa, we had the honour to host the historic World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. At this epoch-making Conference, we agreed on the Political Declaration and the Programme of Action to push back the frontiers of racism, poverty and underdevelopment.


The Conference Against Racism had to contend with complex and difficult issues. At each turn, we had to mount extraordinary efforts to find solutions to the most controversial issues. We did not fail in Durban because we believed that as defenders and

advocates of human rights it was important that the scourge of racism is dealt with holistically, coherently and comprehensively.

It is therefore regrettable that we have not move forward decisively on the question of the implementation of the Durban Commitments and its consequent review by each and every one of us at the national level.


As the custodian and executor of the decisions we adopted in Durban, this Commission must work assiduously for the implementation of the WACR Programme of Action which we believe is action oriented and forward looking. In this regard, we must ensure that the requisite financial resources are made available to successfully put the necessary follow-up mechanisms in place. The millions who were so inspired by the gigantic steps we made despite heavy odds in Durban look up to us and expect nothing less.


Chairperson


On 11 September 2001, the Government of the United States of America and its people as well as citizens of other countries witnessed the most catastrophic and deplorable acts of terror against them. We once more re-affirm our solidarity and sympathies to the families of the people who perished as the result of these acts of madness. Those who stooped beyond the depth of hate and perpetrated these untold acts of terror have to be pursued and when caught must face the full might of the law.


In pursuing those who were engaged in these barbaric and inhuman acts of terror, every effort should made to uphold the sacrosanct and sanctified principles of international human rights law. Let us avoid the temptation to act inconsistent and at variance with the

basic tenets of international law and all its provisions.


An equally important challenge facing the international community in its battle against terrorism is the need to deal with conflicts everywhere. In this regard, we are deeply saddened by the ongoing bloodshed in the Middle East. Any use of disproportionate and

excessive force as well as collective punishment and re-occupation only act to exacerbate conflict in the region. The use of force unabatedly only begets more violence leading to the ever-spiraling wanton violence. The children of Palestine must be given hope of a

better tomorrow with no more humiliation that can only drive them to the extreme. Let the children of both Israel and Palestine be brought up in conditions of security and safety with all the joys and innocence of being young.


This long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict must find an immediate, inclusive and comprehensive as well as durable solution. The recent US sponsored Security Council resolution on the Independent State of Palestine co-existing alongside Israel with secure borders is the step in the right direction. Let us all work for peace in the Middle East and no more killing that only hardens attitudes.


Let us also act expeditiously to rectify all Human Rights Instruments that will make ours a better world. Of importance is the need for this Commission to concretize and operationalise the Right to Development. Time for sterile debates, polemics and filibustering about the operationalization of the Right Development is over, now

is time for action.


Addressing the question of the Right to Development which is the inalienable right of people would help us to deal with poverty which is the breeding ground for conflict. Hopefully, the international community will deal with this important issue systematically in the now held Conference on Financing for Development as well as the forthcoming World Summit for Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg.

Distinguished Chairperson


Coming from the continent of Africa that has and continues to experience conflicts with its attendant ills such as displacement, refugee’s crisis and poverty, our leadership is acutely aware of the challenges it faces especially in relation to the promotion and

protection of human rights.


Concomitant with resolving conflicts, far-reaching decisions have been made in pursuit of the full realization and enjoyment of human rights. An important decision has been taken to transform the Organization of African Unity into the African Union, which will hold its inaugural session in South Africa in July this year. The African Union will deal comprehensively with political and economic integration of the continent. In this exercise, the question of respect for human rights will enjoy the pride of place.


Another milestone for the continent is the adoption of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development that was adopted last year at the OAU Summit in Lusaka. NEPAD has identified conflict resolution, the practice of good economic and political governance as well as respect for human rights as its linchpin. Through NEPAD Africans, themselves have taken the destiny of their continent into their own hands.


The African leadership accepts that development and the restoration of dignity of the African people will only be achieved if conditions such as respect for human rights, poverty eradication and conflict resolution are upheld. Africans are hard at work to change the negative perception of continent. As we were so eloquently reminded by President Thabo Mbeki, recently when he said, " (As Africans we must) recognize the fact that the dignity of the individual is both an objective which society must pursue, and is a goal which cannot be separated from the material well being of that individual".


NEPAD will succeed because it responds creatively and realistically to Africa’s unique development challenges. The international community must act in partnership with Africa to help the continent pull itself out underdevelopment and backwardness. As we look towards the road we have thus far traversed as the Commission let us do a Spring Cleaning as proposed by Ben Okri in his poem Mental Flight where he says:


"Everyone love spring cleaning

Let’ s have a humanity cleaning

Open up history’s chambers of horrors

And clear out the skeletons behind the mirrors……..

A cleaning of pogroms and fears

Of genocide and tears

Of torture and slavery

Hatred and Brutality

Let us turn around and face them…….


I hope the Commission will take the challenge of Ben Okri and act as the conscience of humanity and defenders and advocates of respect for HUMAN RIGHTS.


Finally, I hope that this Commission will rise to the challenges presented by recent events such as the fight against terrorism, abuse of children in conflict situations, the ever-increasing number of displaced persons both internally and externally in addition to its normal programme.


I thank you


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