46th Session of the Human Rights Council, South Africa’s Statement for the High-Level Segment, Geneva, 28 February 2022
Excellencies and participants,
It is a great pleasure and honour for me to be addressing you today. I bring you warm greetings from the Government and the people of South Africa.
This 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council takes place against the backdrop of the worrying situation in Ukraine. South Africa is deeply concerned about the escalation of the situation in Ukraine.
We welcome the decision by Ukraine and Russia to hold talks without preconditions. In this regard, South Africa expresses the hope that both parties will use diplomacy to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine, leading to a durable political and security outcome.
We meet with the backdrop of the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, confronting many of our countries. In the midst of tragic loss, we must build back better and address all inadequacies that were revealed during the pandemic. We must ensure that poor countries have access to vaccines. We must ensure that developed countries provide economic and full support for the recovery of many of our economies which are in dire need straits. We must ensure that, indeed, access to treatment becomes a public good and not the selfish terrain of the few.
Just two months ago – on 10 December 2021 – the people of South Africa celebrated 25 years of the signing into law of our Constitution by our first President of a free South Africa, President Nelson Mandela. The event took place in a town called Sharpeville, the place where 69 unarmed women and men, who were protesting peacefully against the draconian and discriminatory pass laws of the apartheid regime were massacred on 21 March 1960. Our Constitution contains the hopes and the aspirations of a People who had endured great suffering and gross violations of their human rights for over three hundred and fifty (350) years. We experienced colonialism, racism, and apartheid.
When President Mandela chose the 10th of December (1996) as the day on which he would sign our Constitution into law, and that Sharpeville, will be the place to mark this occasion, he wanted to etch in the minds of South Africans the significance of 10 December (International Human Rights Day) and 21 March (South African Human Rights Day) in the history of the struggle for human rights in our country.
He chose the day to ensure that our Constitution become the supreme law of South Africa, with a reminder of the abuses that we had experienced. He wanted to pay tribute to and recognise the important role that the international community played in the struggle for human dignity, achievement of equality, and respect for human rights in South Africa. It is a reminder, that I believe, we must recall today, as this very Council seeks to play a role in assisting Ukraine and Russia to arrive at a settlement that leads to peace. This Council can be a balanced Council, that in a very different way from the Security Council, that allows the two nations to come together and achieve peace.
We have committed as South Africa to the advancement of human rights and freedoms, not just in our country, but the entire continent of Africa, in fact, globally. Human Rights, we believe, must not only be in a human rights instrument – A Bill of Rights Charter – they must be given practical meaning, they must be realised by all people in real terms. All of us should promote and protect the rights of all, effectively. And, we should ensure that all human beings tangibly enjoy access to human rights.
This applies, in our view, to all human rights and all people. In this regard, we call to the Council to be true to the letter and spirit of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action by truly treating all human rights as “universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis for all people”.
The Human Rights Council is a proper multilateral forum to advance human rights. But in order to achieve that, the Council needs must remain true to its mandate and avoid the pitfalls that could destroy it; as it happened to its predecessor. the erstwhile Commission on Human Rights. We need a Council free of the current politicisation, divisions, selectivity, and double standards. We can’t find fault in one direction. We must look at each problem in its full compass of issues. When we address human rights matters, be it thematic or country-specific issues, let us look at the full dimension of the problem.
We need a Council that responds to all violations and abuses, regardless of where they have been committed or who has committed them. We need to use the opportunity of the review of the Council to rid it of the past crippling challenges.
We strongly believe that the review of the Council is an opportune moment for the international community to ensure that the credibility and authority of the Council are reinforced. We must strengthen the Council and ensure its efficacy so that the people of the world and the humanity we serve can truly live in a world that respects all human rights and freedoms.
One way, we could achieve this is through filling gaps in international human rights law whenever we identify them, by developing new treaties and protocols. It is for this reason that South Africa will continue to support and actively participate in the processes aimed at developing treaties on the right to development, and on transnational corporations and other business enterprises that are involved in the illicit trafficking of our resources. We also believe we should look at protocols on private military and security companies whose business activities trample human rights.
The year 2023 will mark the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which led to the adoption of the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
We, of cause, recognise with great gratitude the sterling role that the international community played, both in our struggle for human rights and self-determination as well as freedom and justice.
South Africa remains unequivocal in our support for the struggle of the people of Palestine and the people of Western Sahara. South Africa will not sit back and live under the illusion of freedom when the people of Palestine and Western Sahara are not free. We are the beneficiaries of international human solidarity. We know what can happen when the global community and ordinary people of goodwill commit themselves to a just cause: a cause for freedom, for human dignity, for self-determination, for peace, and for reconciliation.
As a community of nations, we should not tire to hold ourselves to higher standards and values that brought us to where we are today; the same standards and values must continue to inspire us and we must hold true to our commitment to human rights; human dignity; self-determination; and respect for the rights of all.
In 2013, the General Assembly declared 2015-2024 as the International Decade on People of African Descent. The proclamation the subsequent adoption of its programme of activities remain a step in the right direction in combating the scourge of racism and racial discrimination, especially against Africans and People of African descent who are still victims of persistent racism and racial discrimination, enslavement, and denial of their rights.
How we wish that as we worry about other countries and war, we would worry about the Sahal in a similar fashion. That Africa would matter as much as the rest of the world matters.
South Africa is encouraged that the international community has made strides in some of the action plans on the Decade on People of African Descent and has created a permanent forum on People of African descent. We also welcome the annual reports of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the Programme of Activities of the International Decade on People of African Descent and also believe much more must be done.
South Africa remains concerned about the lack of funding for the Office of the High Commissioner and its dependence on donor funding. We believe that the lack of sufficient funding for the human rights pillar of the United Nations must be corrected as a matter of urgency and priority. The Office of the High Commissioner needs the kind of resources that will enable it to continue its important work in the global quest to advance human rights and to contribute to addressing the global challenges of development and peace and security.
I would like to conclude by thanking the African Union for endorsing South Africa’s campaign for Council membership for the period 2023-2025. We shall also look forward to the kind support that our partners gave to our campaign to return to the Council and to become a full member of the UN family once we achieved our freedom. South Africa is ready and willing to put our shoulder to the wheel and work with all partners to address human rights for all in all corners of the world and to strengthen the Human Rights Council to ensure it is fit for purpose and serves all humanity.
I thank you.
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION
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