Statement by International Relations and Cooperation Deputy Minister Marius Fransman at the High Level Segment of the 19th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Madame President,
High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navanathem Pillay, Ministers and Deputy Ministers present, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have the honour, on behalf of the Government and people of South Africa, to convey to you, Madame President, and members of your Bureau our collective gratitude for your excellent stewardship over the business of this Council in the last eight months. May I also convey my delegation’s appreciation to the High Commissioner for her resolute endeavours in bringing to fruition the mandate of the Council. In this regard, I wish to assure you of my delegation’s cooperation, support and commitment in the sustentation of this Council.

We meet at this august organ of multilateral governance once again after a year, at a time of great events and epochal changes in the world. On the 08th January this year, the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party of my government turned 100 years old, making it the oldest liberation movement in Africa. The formation of the ANC in 1912 was a culmination of our people`s struggles against colonialism and national oppression. At the core of this struggle, being our people’s right to choose their own destiny as a united, non-racial, non-sexist nation. The history of the ANC is essentially a history to assert human dignity and the establishment of Human Rights which the world recognized half a century ago when the Nobel Peace Prize was bestowed on Chief Albert Luthuli, President General of the ANC in 1961. The centenary therefore celebrates a milestone achievement of the ANC as a liberation movement and also to celebrate our proud traditions, values and principles that earned our movement an indelible place in the hearts, psyche and soul of both our people and the people of the world. I therefore like to thank once again the progressive partners who during the dark hour of systemic socio-economic exclusion and marginalisation of the majority of South Africans remained resolute to support my country in its quest for universal justice, rule of law, self-determination and human dignity and equality. 

The ANC centenary celebrations mark a watershed moment in our young democracy. It gives us an opportunity as a nation to assess our progress in nation-building, attainment of social cohesion, eradication of economic disparities and social exclusion and marginalization. In this process we are sharply cognizant of the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequalities which continue to afflict our society and for which urgent interventions are required. Since 2009 the current administration has been systematically reviewing existing government policies with a view to their strengthening in order to mitigate the afore-mentioned triple challenges. Some of the key policies in this regard include:

• Integrated Food Security Strategy;
• The zero hunger policy;
• Social security safety nets;
• Nutritional food programmes for school children;
• Expanded Public Works Programmes; and
• 2012 as a year of infrastructure development to create decent jobs.

Madame President

Despite these centenary celebrations, we are cognisant as a ruling party and as a country of the mammoth tasks ahead. We are acutely aware and awake to the persistent challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality in our own country, continent and the globe. In our steadfast efforts of building a better South Africa, a better Africa in a better world we seek to do more to ensure the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.

The euro zone crisis has brought new financial challenges and threats to global growth, once again, we face the prospect of declines in global trade, falling industrial demand, delays in investment, liquidation of businesses and stressed financial institutions, this time with the added risk that fiscal austerity in some parts of the world which will extend the slowdown and deepen the crisis. The crisis currently reflected in the euro zone is having negative effects on the global economy including our own. My country remains committed to initiatives that are intended to ensure that the right to development is a reality for all.  To this end, South Africa through its domestic legislations and policies, through its engagements with the United Nations System, continues to emphasise the primacy of economic, social and cultural rights as key in creating a conducive environment for sustainable human development.

The African Renaissance and International Cooperation Fund, in line with its mandate to advance the economic and social development agenda for Africa, have decided to disburse funds in support of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.  The Special Rapporteur will be working closely with civil society, academia, development practitioners, human rights experts and financial institutions, with the view to ensuring that the African experience on extreme poverty and human rights be mainstreamed into the work of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and this experience is also reflected in the work regarding the Draft Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.

Madame President

In furthering our commitment to the work of the Special Procedures of this Council, my Government hosted the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Mr Olivier De Schutter, who undertook a Mission to South Africa on 07 – 15 July 2011. To this end, the Government of South Africa appreciates the opportunity for the exchange of views with the Special Rapporteur including the insights shared on how to improve the quality of life of all South Africans, particularly the vulnerable segments within society. In the South African context, the Right to Food is encapsulated in the general rubric of the realisation of the economic, social and cultural rights, and especially within the context of the realisation of the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to life. More significantly the Right to Development is seen as on par with all other human rights.

Madame President

There has been a universal consensus about the possible failure by developing countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, to meet the MDGs targets by 2015. Most notably, it has been observed that the main challenge in meeting the MDGs is in relation to the health related MDGs i.e. Goal 4: Reduce child mortality; Goal 5: Improve maternal health; Goal 6: Combat HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

The paramount question of mobilization of requisite resources for the developing countries to achieve the MDGs cannot be overemphasized. The centrality of Goal 8 on international cooperation to achieve the MDGs should remain at the core of the global discourse for the United Nations System. In this regard, the multilateral trading system, international financial institutions and the major economies have a major responsibility and obligation to assist the developing countries to attain the MDGs, through international cooperation.

The G8 and other developing countries have a responsibility to discharge their solemn pledges and commitments in order for Africa to achieve its MDG’s.

South Africa remains among the countries faced with the challenge of meeting the health related MDGs. In this regard, the South African Government in consultation with the United Nations Development Programme and other key non-state actors initiated the MDGs Acceleration Framework (MAF) as an intervention to mitigate the achievement of the MDGs by 2015. Within the context of MAF it was decided to prioritize the adoption of practical interventions to achieve the health related MDGs.  The development policies and programmes in South Africa are intended to ensure that individuals, especially those who were historically marginalized, serve as the central beneficiaries of development and these are in line with the country’s interventions to achieve the MDGs by 2015. 

Madame President

My country hosted the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the parties (CMP7) to the Kyoto Protocol in Durban from 28 November – 9 December 2011. Africa and other small Island States are under heavy pressure from climate stress due to, among others, current low adaptation capacity making them highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Unless this is effectively dealt with, climate change will have a dramatic impact on the realisation of fundamental human rights and indeed reverse the progress that has been made so far towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The outcome of this conference included an agreement to implement the package to support developing nations. This means that urgent support will be available for the developing world, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable to adapt to climate change. 

Madame President

The Millennium Development Goals recognise the need to promote gender equality and empower women to participate in all facets of economic and social life with the aim of achieving sustainable development. Climate change poses a significant challenge to the achievement of sustainable development for the rural poor, especially women, who will suffer disproportionately from its impact. It is therefore critical that more is done to mobilise and empower our women (without leaving men behind!) to address global environmental challenges such as climate change. Women living in poverty are the most threatened by the dangers that stem from climate change. As you know, in rural communities women are largely dependent on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods. For these women, climate change will mean that the supply of natural resources will be threatened. Agriculture may become less viable.

Madame President

The South African Government, by virtue of being a State Party to a range of International Human Rights and Humanitarian legal Instruments, is obligated to subject itself to external scrutiny and Peer Review Mechanisms undertaken by Member States of the United Nations. To this effect, South Africa will present its 2nd Country Report to the 13th Session of the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism (UPR) of the UNHRC in June this year. The UPR Report is primarily intended to confirm South Africa’s commitment to the core values and principles enunciated in the South African Constitution in the areas of promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Madame President

The Commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) adopted at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) was a historical event for the international community to recommit itself to the effective and full implementation of this milestone Outcome. Let me reiterate that the issue of political will remains at the core of this thematic area. As you may be aware, South Africa attaches great importance to the issue of the elimination of racial discrimination in all its forms and manifestations, given our own historical legacy of Apartheid. It is against this background that my Government has committed to hosting the African Diaspora Summit later this year, which will bring the international community together to galvanise support for developing the agenda for the promotion and protection of the rights of people of African Descent. It was indeed encouraging that the UNGA in 2011 took time to deliberate and reflect upon the International Decade on People of African Descent and the necessity of embarking on a rigorous Programme of Action in this context. 
Madame President

My Government is working on the National Traditional Affairs Bill which makes provision for the recognition of the Khoi-San communities, their leadership and structures. It is important to remember that the Khoi-San people, who are indigenous to South Africa, were one of the most brutalised. As a community their language and identity was undermined, to an extend that their entire community was nearly extinct. As a free and democratic South Africa today, our constitution considers everyone as equal who enshrines the principles enunciated in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights that all human beings are born equal in rights, and goes against the principle of the right to non-discrimination. In this regards the traditional affairs bill seeks to restore the dignity of indigenous communities including the Khoisan. This is an example of legislation that seeks to substantively and progressively address the legacy of colonialism and apartheid.

Madame President

South Africa is committed to the process of strengthening protection mechanisms for victims of violence based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity within International Law. We therefore, look forward to engaging with the panel discussion on the subject on 7 March and the outcomes thereof. Furthermore, South Africa is undertaking a number of domestic processes to protect victims from violence based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and we will continue to lead the process Internationally.

Madame President

The events which are collectively known as the "Arab Spring" are some of the vivid reminders of how deep-seated are the challenges envisioned by the architects of this august body.  My country and Government calls for a genuine and constructive dialogue and deliberations on these and other worrisome challenges followed by steadfast, proactive and effective multilateral actions to give credence to the letter and spirit of the International Bill of rights which seek to protect humanity and preserve peace and stability in the world.

Madame President

My Government has noted the release of the final report of the Sri Lankan Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation, we have also noted the positive recommendations contained in the report relating to human rights, the return and resettlement of displaced communities, restitution and compensatory relief for the affected people, and post-conflict reconstruction and nation-building. The South African Government commends the Sri Lankan Government for the decision to set up an authoritative mechanism to further investigate allegations related to human rights abuses and encourages decisive actions upon the findings.

Internet freedom is a very powerful tool if used in a positive way e.g. social networking sites for input into policies and laws.  On face book I posed the question to ordinary citizens for any ideas or issues for the 19th session of the Human rights council, responses were overwhelming, and some of the following key issues were raised by ordinary citizens:

  • Decisive action on the rights and plights of women in relation to human trafficking;

  • Acknowledgement that some of the Human Rights abuses in many countries of the world are perpetrated by those countries own governments

  • Until the rule of law stemming from constitutions underpinned by defendable bills of rights, becomes the norm,  rather than the exception in many countries, civil society will continue to be silenced;

  • The partiality in which some international bodies are perceived to respond to situations of Human Rights abuse in different parts of the world is also problematic.  Some countries continue to enjoy the protection by certain Western forces even whilst gross human rights violence against their own neighbours is continuing.  It is the responsibility of this council to ensure that this type of selective application of the definition of human rights is being stopped, and that all peoples everywhere in the world are protected from abuse.

This Madame President and ladies and gentlemen are the opinions of some of the ordinary citizens out there.

The Government of South Africa welcomes the reconciliation agreement between Palestinian Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas and Mr Khaled Meshaal, Chairperson of the politburo of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance movement, Hamas, on Monday, 06 February 2011 in Qatar. It is noteworthy that this reconciliation has taken effect in a climate of on-going regional tensions, a Middle East Peace Process hampered by continuous disagreement and the as yet unfulfilled establishment of a Palestinian State. South Africa congratulates the two parties and will support all attempts toward democracy, peace, stability, the advancement of human rights and human dignity in their society.

The South African Government remains deeply concerned about the political, security, socio-economic and humanitarian situation in Syria that continues to escalate. This despite calls from the international community for the Syrian Government and the armed opposition to refrain from the violence and settle their differences in a peaceful manner. South Africa believes that the efforts of the League of Arab States should be supported and given the necessary political space to find a solution to the Syrian crisis. South Africa supports the efforts of the League of Arab States to facilitate a Syrian-led political process as stated in the resolution.

In conclusion, I would like to re-affirm my country’s support of the work of the council, its effective functioning and fulfilment of its mandate.

I thank you!

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