Statement by Deputy Minister Alvin Botes during the High-Level Panel National Statement during the 43rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, 24 February 2020

Madam President,

The President of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, H.E. Mr. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande,
United Nations Secretary-General, H.E. Mr. António Guterres,
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet,
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

30 years ago Nelson Mandela was released from prison and liberation movements were unbanned after decades of struggle against Apartheid, a Crime Against Humanity. These events ignited a journey towards a constitutional democracy infused with the characteristics acquired through decades of struggle against injustice. This is the context of South Africa’s commitment to fostering a human rights centred governance and foreign policy.

South Africa’s foreign policy is therefore predicated on respecting, promoting, protecting, and fulfilling all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinctions of any kind.

We therefore urge this Council to refrain from the false dichotomy between human rights and development and treat all human rights with the same emphasis in line with the International Bill of Rights, the Vienna Declaration and the Declaration on the Right to Development.

Madam President,

International solidarity was important for the attainment of a human rights centred democracy in South Africa. Hence our foreign policy places strong emphasis on solidarity and cooperation amongst nations.  Our participation in the High-Level Segment of the 43rd Session of the Council is therefore guided by the Southern African philosophy of Ubuntu, “I am because you are”; meaning that our fates are inextricably linked and symbiotically intertwined.

2021 marks the 20th Anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted during the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR). As part of the Africa Group we call on all UN member states to support the proposed initiative of a high-level meeting at the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, in 2021, to review progress made since the 2001 WCAR and chart a way forward as a step to combat rising forms of racism and other forms of oppression globally.

Madam President,

2020 is also the 25th Anniversary of Beijing Conference. Across the world though, women and girls are still marginalised socially, economically and subjected to gender-based violence. We should recommit to the provisions of the Beijing Platform of Action to build a substantively equal world, free from discrimination and violence. In this regard, we should take concrete measures in addressing the plight of women by strengthening institutions and accountability to ensure their full and effective participation.

Systemic poverty is debilitating and deprives women and children of all their human rights. Poverty arises out of policies and laws and these need to be changed through our collective efforts and cooperation.

We maintain that any framework guiding nations on women empowerment should also prioritise the full economic inclusion of women. In this regard, we are heartened that the last AU Assembly declared the period 2020-2030 as the Decade of Women’s Economic and Financial Inclusion. This includes closing the wage gap through equal pay for work of equal value.

Madam President,

We concur with the Secretary-General, Mr Antonio Guterres, that the climate crisis is the biggest threat to our survival as a species and is already threatening the enjoyment of human rights across the globe. To this end, the international community should work together to address the adverse impacts of climate change.

Madam President,

The continued occupation of the Palestinian people and the people of Western Sahara and the concomitant denial of their human rights remains a concern for South Africa. We firmly believe that only initiatives developed with the full participation of the people of Western Sahara, in line with international law that can yield a just and lasting peace.

With respect to Palestine only substantive negotiations guided by the parameters of international law will lead to just ending of the occupation. We are concerned about the unrelenting effort to under-value the human rights pillar of the United Nations system. We share the goals of more efficient institutions within the multilateral system, but this must not be done at the expense of full participation by member states in the important work of the Human Rights Council. We therefore do not support attempts to remove under the ‘colour of efficiency’, agenda items 7 and 9 dealing with the persistent human rights abuses of the people of Palestine and those who face discrimination and violence based on race, respectively.

In conclusion, the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations and the 65th Anniversary of the Bandung Conference are important reminders of the importance of multilateralism, human solidarity and cooperation amongst nations.

South Africa is of the view that an ideal and just multilateral system is one based on inclusivity and legitimacy. Hence, we should seize the moment of the 75th Anniversary of the UN to advance the UN reform process.

I thank you

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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