Statement by Deputy Minister Landers at the High-Level Segment of the 31st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, 01 March 2016, Geneva, Switzerland

Mr President,
The High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers present,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset, let me take this opportunity to congratulate you and the Bureau of this Council on your election. We wish you success during your tenure and assure you of our support. Likewise, my delegation extends its warm appreciation to the bureau of 2015 for a job well done.

Mr President,

The 50th Anniversary of the adoption and 40th Anniversary of the entry into force of the International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Civil and Political Rights is a reminder of the euphoria and the excitement that greeted us, as the international community, during the early years of the United Nations. These two core human rights Covenants, taken together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have become known as the UN Bill of Rights.

The anniversary of the two Covenants also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the South African Constitution. The 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa is predicated on the UN Bill of Rights and guarantees the rights enshrined in both the ICESCR and the ICCPR. 

Mr President,

The international community was, at the time of the two Covenants, full of hopes and dreams that ‘the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy” both sets of rights. The international community was encouraged and looking forward to fulfilling its obligations to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms. 50 years on, most of these dreams remain largely unfulfilled.

Mr President,

The central question for all of us should be whether, as a community of nations, we are capable of the sustained and creative ingenuity which would result in the creation of the international human rights system that would address the interests and aspirations of all in a balanced and mutually beneficial manner with maximum protection of victims. 

Accordingly, and in celebrating the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Human Rights Council, we need to consider whether the Council has been able to discharge its responsibility to promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner. We will have to make a consideration on how well has the Council been able to respond to the vision contained in the two Covenants, including the General Assembly resolution 60/251 creating this august body as well as the Council’s own institution building text.

Mr President,

The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights also recognised the universality, indivisibility, interdependence, and interrelatedness of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Even more importantly, the VDPA recognises the Right to Development, as defined and enshrined in the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development as an inalienable and fundamental human right which places the individual at the centre and as a beneficiary of development.

The VDPA also affirmed the inextricability between the two core human rights Covenants and places emphasis on equal treatment of both the economic, social and cultural rights on the one hand and the civil and political rights on the other. It was also at Vienna where it was affirmed that human rights are the legitimate concern of the international community and must be addressed in a fair and balanced manner.

Mr President,

More recently, the UN system has grappled with setting the New Agenda for development aimed at making human dignity and equality a reality for all, namely, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In our humble view, these two instructive documents seek to address the ills of failure to implement Internationally Agreed Goals, as well as addressing in a structured manner the unfinished business on the MDGs and the outcomes of all the major UN Conferences and Summits in the economic and social fields.

Even though there is very little to fault in the evolution of norm and standard setting through codification of international human rights and humanitarian law, there are still very serious and visible protection gaps in terms of the practical enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

The international community has not succeeded in its “quest for protection”, primarily owing to, amongst others, lack of political will at the national and global levels, politicisation, double standards and selective targeting, as well as the predominant view that human rights violations are challenges only for the developing countries.
Mr President,

In 2015, we commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the adoption of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism. This year we are also commemorating 15 years since the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

The 15th Anniversary of the adoption of the DDPA presents us with an opportunity to reflect on the achievement that we have made since its adoption as well as the adoption of the ICERD 50 years ago and engage, truly, on the challenges that face us.  The International Decade of People of African Descent also presents us with an opportunity, individually and collectively, to ensure the realisation of the aspirations of People of African Descent and our own aspirations of a world free of racism.

Indeed, the mammoth task of combatting all the scourges of racial discrimination are, in the words of the icon of our struggle, Nelson Mandela, “not an easy, romantic wish, but a practical and complicated undertaking that calls for clear thinking and proper planning”.

Mr President,

South Africa joins the rest of the countries of the global South in their yearning for the priorities of the developing countries to receive equal and undivided attention as well. The voices of the Secretary-General and High Commissioner for Human Rights are equally imperative on vexing matters such as (a) the imperative need for the elaboration of a Convention on the Right to Development and (b) the new normative standards holding Transnational Corporations and other business enterprises, Private Military and Security Companies and Extractive Industries accountable for human rights violations.

The UN structures and institutions established in 1945 are clearly inadequate to address the contemporary global challenges primarily as a result of the global village in which we live today and as yet to be defined phenomenon of globalisation. The UN system requires serious reflection on the establishment of new Institutions of Global Governance (IGGs) to respond effectively to contemporary global challenges as well as to give effect to the notion of universal justice predicated on the practical realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms including finding practical solutions and firm commitments on the means of implementation for the Internationally Agreed Goals.

Mr President,

The African Union, working through its Regional Economic Communities (RECs) continues to give priority to durable peace and security on the Continent, particularly in those regions and countries affected or emerging from conflict. The AU has chosen this path on the understanding that durable peace on the Continent is a necessary prerequisite towards the macro-economic recovery of within the Continent through programmes such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). It is important to underline that these programmes are uniquely African and have integrated core values of democracy, human rights, rule of law, electoral accountable governance and transparency. Undoubtedly, there is a lot more still to be done to deepen and consolidate the vision of a peaceful, prosperous and united Continent. To this end, we invite extra-Continental partners to work collaboratively, constructively and consultatively with the AU, NEPAD and APRM to realise this vision. Surely, solutions to African challenges must be found within and among Africans. 

Mr President,

On the domestic front, South Africa continues to collaborate with the UN human rights system including its Special Procedures and Mechanisms. To this end, the Government hosted during December 2015 the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences. On Monday and Tuesday next week, the Government will be presenting its report to the Human Rights Committee on its implementation of the provisions of the ICCPR. Satisfactory strides are being made in preparation of the country’s next Universal Period Review (UPR) Report due in 2017 and its Initial Report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).

South Africa continues to grapple with its national ideals of the attainment of social cohesion, nation building, poverty eradication, inequalities and unemployment. The National Development Plan: Vision 2030 (NDP) is a framework and blueprint used by Government and its social partners to effectively mitigate these scourges. South Africa is pleased that the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development adopted in 2015 are fully aligned with our National Development Plan.

Additionally, the Government intends to promulgate, as a matter of urgency, legislation criminalising racism, punishing it by law and ensuring that the perpetrators of these scourges are brought to justice.

Mr President,

South Africa joins the international community in expressing grave concerns at the flagrant disregard for the sanctity of life and the preservation of human dignity, as evidenced by forced migration with all the concomitant risks in loss of life, acts of xenophobia and the erosion into human dignity.

The peoples of the world cannot be entirely free until the Palestinian people and the Saharawi people are free. The legitimate struggles for self-determination and statehood for the peoples of Palestine and the Saharawi people must be at the centre of the mandate of this Council until these objectives are fully attained. The peoples of the world cannot be entirely free until freedom is achieved in these two occupies territories.

In conclusion, Mr President, the contemporary scourges that continue to undermine human rights in the areas of extremism, terrorism, resurgent torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions, unlawful renditions, should be combatted. The Council must have the same collective commitment without fear, favour or selectivity in dealing with these vexing issues. If the ever-elusive notion of universal justice is to be realised, these must be addressed.

I thank you.


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