Xenophobia: Our 2009 recommendations were ignored - SAHRC

Commission cautions that latest attacks are incompatible with the values of our Constitution and pose a real threat to our democracy


17th April 2015

The South African Human Rights Commission expresses strong condemnation at the spate of violence and verbal attacks of foreign national across the country.

The Commission cautions that these attacks are incompatible with the values of our Constitution and pose a real threat to our democracy. Lessons drawn from the 2008 xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals, as well as other conflicts within the region, clearly show the potential of such conduct degenerating into other opportunistic attacks on fellow citizens that could weaken and indeed reverses democratic gains, the economy, South Africa’s standing internationally most importantly basic respect for human rights that South Africa has achieved so far.

It is regrettable that the findings and recommendations by the Commission in its 2009 report on Xenophobic attacks which drew special emphasis on the need for early warning systems, heightened protection of foreign nationals, reintegration, wide education programme, access to justice and reparation based on the events of 2008 has not been responded to by the relevant government departments.

The Commission reminds South Africans that our Constitution protects the human rights of all foreign nationals, with or without resident permits, residing within the borders of the Republic. These rights, particularly the right not to be treated in an inhuman and degrading manner, or to be killed, must be upheld at all times. Violations of any of these rights seriously undermines the values of an equal and just society, based on respect for human rights as provided by the Constitution. In the process, the human rights of non-nationals as set out in international covenants to which the country is bound are also violated.

The South Africa Human Rights Commission is mandated by both the Constitution and the South African Human Rights Commission Act to provide advice to the state on measures that may be taken towards achieving democracy and foster a culture of human rights and to avoid regression of democracy in the Republic.

The Commission has in the past and continues to engage in a number of multi-pronged initiatives to achieve immediate, medium and long term outcomes to address the violence. These include high level engagements with state and non-state actors aimed at encouraging the public towards renouncement of ongoing violence and call for the cessation of conflict; secondly, high-level engagements with law enforcement agencies to advise and encourage a scaling-up of efforts to achieve law and order, and arrest any further loss of life and damage to property.

While the Commission recognises the role and effort of the police to restore law and order, it strongly condemns activities where some SAPS officials are seen participating in illegal activities. Thirdly, engagements with key policy makers, particularly the Minister of Home Affairs. This is aimed towards broader reforms including a review of current policy and regulatory frameworks relating to migration in respect of the entry, documentation, residence and protection of foreign nationals.

The South African Human Rights Commission reiterates the call on all leaders to understand the impact words can have and to consider carefully the language which is used when communicating on issues relating to the attacks on foreign nationals.

The Commission has noted the comments by King Zwelithini disassociating himself from the actions of people involved in the recent attacks and calls on him to address the public to confirm that these deplorable actions are not being undertaken in his name or by his direction. The Commission is investigating complaints regarding such alleged comments.

These initiatives follow a mission led by the Chairperson Adv. Lawrence Mushwana to hotspots and temporary camps in KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday and Wednesday this week to establish the nature and extent of the human rights challenges associated with these attacks.

At the end of the visit, the Chairperson expressed his deep concern over the impact on the vulnerable, in particular women, children and older persons who have been and continue to be affected by the terrible incidents of the past week. The Commission’s delegation visited the camps in Isipingo, Chartsworth and Greenwood in Durban which collectively house more than two thousand migrants from different African countries. The Commission shall continue to monitor incidents wherever they may occur.

The Commission hereby calls upon the media to exercise caution over broadcasts relating to children and to ensure that in the current conditions women and children are not made more vulnerable than they already are.

The Commission commends and acknowledges the interim measures in place to mitigate the hardship of displaced foreign nationals implemented by disaster management officials that includes the Departments of Health, Home Affairs, the SA Police Service, the Durban Municipality, the NGOs, religious leaders and volunteers.

We must remain conscious that South Africa has in the past benefitted from and continues to benefit from African states. In particular our common commitment that South Africa belongs to all that live in it, and that the rights of foreign nationals must be observed and respected at all times and within the law must be actively protected by us all.

Statement issued by SA Human Rights Commission spokesperson, Isaac Mangena, April 17 2015

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