8 February 2013

South Africa Must Do More to Tackle 'Pandemic of Sexual Violence' - UN Rights Chief

Photo: GCIS
South Africans Campaigning Against Sexual Violence

The United Nations human rights chief today expressed her shock and deep sadness at the rape, mutilation and murder of a 17-year-old woman in South Africa, and urged a more comprehensive approach to tackling the "pandemic of sexual violence" in the country.

"There is a need for very strong signals to be sent to all rapists that sexual violence is absolutely unacceptable and that they will have to face the consequences of their terrible acts. The entrenched culture of sexual violence which prevails in South Africa must end," said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

The victim, Anene Booysen, was raped and mutilated, allegedly by several men, on 2 February and left for dead on a building site in Bredasdorp, 80 miles east of Cape Town, according to a news release issued by the High Commissioner's office (OHCHR). The following morning she was found, still alive, by a security guard, but died later the same day.

Ms. Pillay welcomed the "strong reaction" by the country's leaders to the attack. "But it should not have taken this particularly atrocious case, involving rape, torture and murder, to underline the urgent need for a more thorough response across the whole spectrum of South African society to tackle the root causes of this pandemic of sexual violence," she added.

South Africa has the highest rates of rape reported to the police anywhere in the world, OHCHR pointed out. In 2012, the number of rapes documented by the police rose to over 64,000 - or 175 per day. These figures are believed to considerably underestimate the true number of rapes, as many cases go unreported.

A survey released in June by the Medical Research Council of South Africa found that 28 percent of men surveyed had raped a woman or girl, and one in 20 said they had raped a woman or girl in the past year.

The High Commissioner stressed that while the legal framework and some initiatives are in place to address sexual violence, much more needs to be done, including on the issue of the extremely low arrest and conviction rates for perpetrators of rape.

"Violence against women is not only a human rights violation, it is also a brutal manifestation of wider discrimination against women, which is to be understood against the background of subordination of women within the patriarchal system that still exists in South Africa," Ms. Pillay added.

"The issue of sexual violence against women is not of concern to women alone. Men must also be part of the solution and have to play an active role in stopping gender-based violence and combating discrimination," she stated.

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