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01st December 2016

ATTENTION: Editors and Reporters

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) today wrote to the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane requesting information in order to understand why South Africa voted No to an important United Nations General Assembly resolution that reiterates the need for human rights defenders to be protected.

On 25 November 2015, in the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly, South Africa voted against this UN General Assembly Resolution on human rights defenders. South Africa was one of 14 states that chose to vote No on the resolution. The other states include: China, Russia, Syria, Burundi, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and Sudan. There were 117 states voting in favour and 40 abstentions.

At an international level, shock has been expressed that South Africa would choose to be associated with these countries in relation to a resolution on human rights defenders. Some of these countries have been harshly criticised over their human rights track record and still have far to go in ensuring that human rights are protected, respected and fulfilled. Given South Africa’s apartheid past, struggle for democracy and commitment to human rights, it is difficult to understand the No vote.

The SAHRC believes by joining the international community and participating in UN processes, South Africa is provided with an opportunity to demonstrate leadership on important human rights issues. It also provides an opportunity for South Africa to influence the promotion and protection of human rights in other countries. The current No vote appears to do the opposite.

Human rights defenders across the globe have been the targets of attacks, targets and reprisals resulting in serious human rights violations. By voting No, the SAHRC believes South Africa is undermining the important contribution that these defenders make in advocating not only for civil and political rights but also for the achievement of sustainable development and the realization of economic, social and cultural rights. It is thus unclear as to why South Africa as a country that is committed to human rights would vote against this important resolution.

The Resolution does not create any new rights or obligations upon States, but merely reiterates the importance of upholding and respecting the human rights of these defenders who at times can be particularly vulnerable to attacks. It is precisely this vulnerability that calls for their recognition and for States which are committed to human rights to publicly demonstrate that the important contributions that human rights defenders make to the promotion and protection of human rights will be respected and protected.

Issued by the SA Human Rights Commission
For more information contact
Isaac Mangena


For comments email info@sahrc.org.za [Back]

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