Statement by H.E. Deputy Minister L Landers High-Level Segment 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, 27 February 2018

I congratulate you, Mr President, and the Bureau of this Council on your appointment. On behalf of the South African Government, I would like to wish you every success during your tenure and assure you of our support.

I also express my country’s appreciation to the High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein for the manner in which he has discharged his responsibilities as High Commissioner for Human Rights. As his tenure draws to a close, we salute him for his leadership and fortitude. We know that the High Commissioner confronted a number of challenges but he did his all to rise to the occasion. 

This Human Rights Council meets at a time of major global human rights commemorative events.  This includes the 70th Anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the 25th Anniversary of the Vienna Declaration & Programme of Action (VDPA) and the Centenary of the late icon, former President Nelson Mandela.  Nelson Mandela embodied the UDHR and the VDPA including the 9 core human rights treaties.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation has chosen the theme “Be the Legacy” to mark the Centenary. This is also apt for the Council, if we are to honour Nelson Mandela, as he was our greatest human rights champion of our time.

How then does the Council become The Legacy?

For the Council to be true to its historic mission, it must take a balanced approach to human rights.   It needs to act in a manner that reflects the Vienna spirit of the indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights. We need to prevent the misuse of human rights as an instrument for advancing political agendas of individual countries.

70 years since the adoption of the UDHR and a century since Nelson Mandela was born, there are still areas that constitute unfinished business for the international community. These include; the legacy of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance as well as poverty and inequality. We can only eliminate them through collective effort and cooperation. 

The Human Rights Council must redouble its efforts to tackle this unfinished business. Speaking for the first time as a Head of State of Democratic South Africa at the 49th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on 03 October 1994, Madiba said:

“The very fact that racism degrades both the perpetrator and the victim, commands that, if we are true to our commitment to protect human dignity we must fight on until victory is achieved.”

In recent times, we have seen a resurgence of racism, with some leaders not concerned about the effects of their utterances that border on incitement to hatred. As a moral leader for the promotion and protection of human rights, the Council should not turn a blind eye on this major challenge of our time. It is important to work constructively with member states in combatting these scourges.

On the imperative of joining forces against poverty, let us remember Nelson Mandela’s words:

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

Mr President,

The Council has a duty to focus on poverty eradication. If we falter on economic, social and cultural rights, this will undermine our progress on civil and political rights. One set of rights cannot be ignored at the expense of the other as encapsulated in the Right to Development, affirming their inextricability.  South Africa is a living example of this symbiosis, in a context of a country that was once racially polarized and where inequalities were embedded. The South African Constitution makes this point with its founding fathers cognisant that all rights, in particular socio-economic rights, have to be entrenched and actionable. To further give effect to the South African Constitution, the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights is a safeguard for the security of our nation.

Mr President,

Nelson Mandela’s wish would have been that the level of trust in the international system and in this Council, would be higher than we observe today.

Mr President,

Nelson Mandela was a believer in multilateralism, the rule of law and global solutions to global problems. Therefore, he believed in the ideal of the Human Rights Council.

We commend the Council on what it has accomplished but much more has to be done. We hope that the Centenary offers an opportunity in the context of UDHR to rally us globally around common values that bind us in the human rights instruments that we have. In this spirit, we hope the Human Rights Council will honour his legacy and work together in convening a “Special Session on Nelson Mandela and Human Rights in the context of the 70th Anniversary of the UDHR”. It is our hope, that the Special Session will be held on the day that 76 year old Nelson Mandela and Mama Sisulu and millions of South Africans voted for the first time ever in their lives which was 27 April 1994.

In line with the two Covenants, Nelson Mandela believed that humanity cannot be free without achieving the Right to Self-Determination. No human being can enjoy any human right without this right. For South Africans, because of apartheid, this right is fundamental hence our unflinching support for the people of Palestine and Western Sahara. Until they are free, we are also not free, and he would have hoped that we would finish the work of achieving their self-determination.

In conclusion, the Council has achieved a lot on the human rights normative system. More still needs to be done to fill the promotion and protection gaps.  As we achieve successes, new challenges emerge. In the words of former President Mandela when he stated “I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended”.
I thank you.


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