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SAHRC statement regarding South Africa's appearance before the UN Human Rights Council

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Today, the South African government will appear before the 13th Session of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations in Geneva.  The UPR is a unique mechanism of the Human Rights Council in which States peer review each other’s human rights record every 4 ½  years. The purpose of this process is to improve the human rights situation on the ground in Member States.

South Africa is expected to present its Report to the UPR Working Group and report back on the implementation of the recommendations that were made and the human rights situation in the country since the first review which took place in April 2008.

During South Africa’s first review South Africa took the unusual approach of not submitting a written report prior to its interaction with the Working Group. In addition, unlike many other countries South Africa is yet to make pledges to the Human Rights Council thereby formally providing an indication as to whether the country accepts or rejects the recommendations that were made to it.

This time round, South Africa has submitted its State Report prior to its appearance before the Human Rights Council mechanism.  Whilst the UN only allows States to submit a 20 page report, thereby limiting the information that can be provided, there are a few notable absences from the report. The report ought to provide an update on the implementation of the recommendations, yet it is silent on recommendations that were made previously to South Africa to criminalise corporal punishment; ratify a number of important outstanding international instruments such as the International Covenant on Economic Social and Culture Rights (ICESCR); pass legislation criminalising torture and hate crimes; and measures that have been taken to address discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The report does however quite candidly indicate that South Africa experiences challenges in the promotion and protection of human rights in the areas of delivering a quality education to all citizens; dealing with overcrowded correctional services facilities; addressing the scourge of xenophobia; and the need to strengthen social cohesion in our society. So too does the report highlight that South Africa is lagging behind in achieving the Millennium Development Goals relating to child and maternal mortality.

Whilst the UPR process is inherently political in nature, as it is a review of states by states, the South African Human Rights Commission wishes to encourage the South African delegation to indicate during its participation before the UPR Working Group which recommendations it accepts and which are rejected. This will be an important and symbolic international commitment to South African society as to where our governments’ priorities lie in the promotion and protection of human rights. It will also assist, enrich and inform the national debate and choices that are made to address poverty and inequality in this country. 
For more information: Vincent Moaga 0735629866
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