On the occasion of the commemoration of the Human Rights Day, on 21 March 2013 we as a Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) sees this as that opportunity to reflect on the achievements or otherwise in the development of a culture of human rights in South Africa since the inception of democracy in 1994.
While we note and appreciate that there has been some progress in the development of a culture of human rights we remain deeply concerned about the current state of human rights in South Africa. We believe that widespread poverty and inequality underpin the vast majority of the human rights challenges we face in our country.
At the same time, we recognise the positive steps undertaken by the government to address these challenges and believe that the adoption of the National Development Plan (NDP) should be commended, particularly because it outlines long term strategies for development, growth and poverty reduction in South Africa. Moreover, it recognises that 'linkages between income poverty and deprivations in health care, education and social infrastructure are direct."
Despite the positive development occasioned by the NDP, the SAHRC remains concerned about the following matters:
The criminalisation of torture
Recent successive incidents of police brutality indicate that South Africa needs to move with the necessary speed to finalize the Torture Bill that is currently before Parliament. The Bill will provide a legal framework to combat brutality and hold perpetrators accountable.
Regular and consistent reports around allegations of police brutality and even torture at the hands of security officials, remains a major concern for the SAHRC, and this will from now and the years ahead remain a major focus of our work.
Violence against women and girls
There is still much that government must do to ensure that women and girls live in violence free homes and communities. We welcome the re-introduction of Specialised Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit.
However, South Africa still needs to increase measures to protect and provide adequate redress to women at risk of, or subjected to, gender-based violence, and to ensure that perpetrators are arrested, properly tried and, if found guilty, sentenced appropriately.
Further it is of paramount importance that police, prosecutors and judicial officers undergo an appropriate training on sexual offences and violence against women and girl child on a regular basis.
Access to water and sanitation
South Africa still needs to address backlogs in ensuring access to water and sanitation for all its citizens. It is unthinkable that, almost two decades after the dawn of democracy, people still do not have access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation, especially in the rural areas of South Africa. According to Stats-SA, just over 85% of households in South Africa have access to water that is of a RDP-acceptable level. However, in Eastern Cape, less than 70% of households have a similar level of access.
The issue of water and sanitation was highlighted recently in two matters that the SAHRC investigated - Makhaza in Western Cape and Moqhaka in the Free State. In both cases, the State provided residents with unenclosed toilets as an interim sanitation measure. The SAHRC concluded that the provision of unenclosed toilets violated the residents' constitutional rights to dignity and privacy.
South Africa must also urgently address the impact of acid mine drainage within a human rights framework in relation to the right of access to water and the human rights implications due to the lack thereof.
Access to basic education
Much still has to be done to ensure not only access to education but also issues relating to the quality of education. The major challenge facing the country is the persistence of gross inequities permeating the education system.
Poverty remains a significant barrier to education, with children in the poorest households nearly three times less likely to complete secondary schooling than children in the richest households. The quality of education in South Africa is not uniform, to the detriment of poor children.
The SAHRC recognises that the challenges facing South Africa are complex and in response has developed a Basic Education Charter to help address the dire need for a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system. Such a system will enable tracking progress and areas of concern so that South Africa's international obligations in respect to education terms of the Convention on the Rights of the Child are fulfilled.
South Africa continues to experience challenges in ensuring that the rights of migrants are observed and respected by law enforcement officials, and that the procedure for validating and where needs be, legalising the status of refugees and other migrants is dealt with the necessary urgency and in accordance with migration laws. Deportation of foreigners should be carried out within the prescripts of the law and without delay.
The Commission would like to emphasize that the rights of non-nationals, as specifically protected in the national law and in various international human rights agreements, should be observed and respected.
Discrimination against persons with disabilities in a work place
For most people, work is fundamental to their social and economic well-being. It affords persons the dignity, autonomy and independence that flow from being contributing members of their communities.
From time to time, persons with disabilities are excluded and discriminated against in the work place, in the public buildings, in public transport, public schools and other similar public places and facilities. Many are still denied opportunities to work even in circumstances where they have the necessary experience and expertise.
While as a Commission we do our best to educate our people with disabilities we call on Government and all other relevant stakeholder to use this Human Rights Month and onwards to educate people about disability. This will help to overcome deeply ingrained attitudes, stereotypes, prejudices and hiring and promotions systems that denigrate, overlooks and diminish the abilities of persons with disabilities.
Physical and sexual abuse against older persons
The country has in recent weeks experienced an increase in the brutal attacks and abuse, including physical and sexual abuse, against older persons, primarily women. More than five cases of rape against older women were reported in KZN alone. Reports indicate that older persons are increasingly robbed by their intimate family members to feed their drug habits and they fall victims of physical abuse in some old age homes if not in their own homes.
Just like any citizen in this country, older persons are protected by law and the Constitution, and must equally be allowed to enjoy all rights enshrined in the Constitution and the law. It is of grave concern that, there is little evidence to show that this is actually happening and the increasing reports of abuse against the elderly are alarming and highlight their extreme vulnerability regardless of the existing legislation enacted to protect them.
We call on the Department of Social Development, as custodian of the Older Persons Act, to play a leading role in ensuring that the rights of the elderly are protected and they are fully accorded the opportunity to enjoy their rights as entrenched in the Constitution.
Right to food
The various strategies and policies geared towards the realisation of a food secure nation demonstrate the strong commitment of the Government to address the issue of food security in the country. However, commitments are yet to translate into concrete action. Tremendous disparities in food security persist, linked strongly to inequality in terms of geographical areas, gender and race.
In order to overcome these disparities, we advocate for the various strategies and policies, in particular the Outcomes based Approach, to be strengthened by adopting a rights-based approach. This means that the setting of targets and the identification of the concrete measures to be adopted should result in meaningful public participation.
Further, the authorities responsible for implementation should be held accountable for results, and that the indicators to measure the progressive realisation of the right to food should be based on the normative components of the right to food, including non-discrimination.
In the context of the these challenges, we hope that South Africans will use Human Rights Month to reflect meaningfully on how they can individually and collectively ensure that a human rights culture is engrained within our societies to give effect to the powerful constitutional vision of improving the quality of life of all citizens and building a united and democratic South Africa that can take its rightful place as sovereign state in the family of nations.
Issued by: South African Human Rights Commission