22 July 2010

South Africa: Call for Special Courts in Xenophobia Cases

Cape Town — The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has recommended that the government set up special courts to deal with xenophobia-related cases.

The commission made this recommendation to Parliament's portfolio committee on justice and constitutional development yesterday when it presented its findings on research into the aftermath of the 2008 xenophobic attacks.

It recommended ways of dealing with similar incidents in the future.

The national report is titled "Report on the rule of law, justice and impunity: institutional responses to the 2008 violence against non-nationals".

It was based on information gathered in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, and focused on how "impunity undermines the rule of law".

In the Western Cape, the research was conducted in Masiphumelele.

Among the critical issues listed by the SAHRC's Joyce Tlou was the need for special dedicated courts, "like the ones we had for the World Cup". Tlou told the Cape Argus that it was merely a recommendation which could assist in the event of another violent xenophobic outbreak similar to the attacks of May 2008.

A hotline, including a widely publicised central number people could call, was recommended to assist as an early warning system.

The report found that victims of xenophobia had not received proper justice because there were so few convictions related to the attacks.

The report said cases related to the 2008 attacks were hindered by delays brought on by case flow management, a shortage of investigators, reduced forensic and court capacity, as well as a lack of available interpreters.

It also found that there was a poor relationship between the affected communities, police and the judicial system.

Confidence in the system was undermined because the police were seen as unresponsive, with some of them being labelled corrupt and co-operative with local criminals.

Tlou said that the accusations levelled against police were "dangerous" because they diminished confidence in the police.

The report also noted that foreigners raised incidences of misconduct among police.

"Although individuals raised it, when we followed it up no cases were opened (with the Independent Complaints Directorate)."

The report also found that:

Reintegration of those displaced did "not occur consistently, or sustainably", and was not adequately monitored.

Some progress was made in light of possible future attacks, but effort needed to be made to maintain the progress.

Security forces were not able to stop the attacks from spreading before people were displaced and property destroyed.

The commission recommended that the police and the SA Defence Force develop guidelines for future co-operative service.

They said there was a need for police to "boost deployment of back-up units in social conflict situations".

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