News / Africa

HRW: 2012 Mars South African Human Rights Record

Members of the judicial commission of inquiry into shootings at Lonmin's Marikana mine, near Rustenburg, South Africa, Oct. 1, 2012.
Members of the judicial commission of inquiry into shootings at Lonmin's Marikana mine, near Rustenburg, South Africa, Oct. 1, 2012.
Anita Powell
With one of the world's most liberal constitutions and a boisterous media sector, South Africa has long been the African continent's model for human rights.
But global watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) says events in 2012 have set the nation back significantly. Citing police shootings of striking miners and legislative proposals to significantly restrict press freedoms, the U.S.-based group says South Africa needs to refocus on maintaining freedoms it fought hard to gain in the wake of apartheid.
For many South Africans, the so-called Marikana massacre of August 16 was a scene straight out of that era: police shooting wildly into a crowd of angry black striking mine workers, killing 34.
Described by one major news outlet as "the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since 1960," the Marikana wildcat strike against platinum-mining giant Lonmin drew allegations of police brutality and laid bare dire conditions that many black workers face nearly 20 years after the end of apartheid.
Speaking from Johannesburg, where the group issued Global Report 2013 – a 665-page, ranked assessment of human rights issues in more than 80 countries – HRW's South Africa director Cameron Jacobs described the tragedy as emblematic of the country's most troubled post-apartheid year.
“The year 2012 in South Africa most probably represented one of its most challenging years," he said. "I think when one has to look at the number of issues in 2012, there have been certain threats around freedom of expression, challenges in respect to the rule of law and ... the right to equality, which is one of the cornerstones of our democracy.”
While police say they fired on the workers in self-defense, a government-commissioned investigation is ongoing, and Lonmin announced last week that it would implement a long-term plan that it says will significantly improve workers’ conditions, including better housing, flexible working hours, and leave policies that will allow workers to visit their families in the countryside.

Regarding legislative affairs, HRW joined local and international media houses in vocally opposing the Protection of State Information Bill, which is slated for approval this year, saying it would limit access to information and restrict press freedom. HRW also notes opposition to the pending Traditional Courts Bill, which would set up a separate legal system for 17 million South Africans living in rural areas. The bill predominantly affects poor blacks, and critics say the bill is also unconstitutional, unfair to women and a reprise of hateful apartheid laws.

Kayum Ahmed, CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission, who also says the Marikana shooting stands out as the most significant event of the year, says many of South Africa’s human rights problems go down to the most basic level.
“The constitution provides one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, which provides for access to basic services, including water," he said.  "And what we have discovered is that the situation in South Africa is fairly dire, in the sense that there are several municipalities that simply fail to provide access to water and sanitation in those respective provinces.”
But, Ahmed says, South Africa is a nation that has distinguished itself for its optimism despite its dark history.
“I think it would be difficult to say that 2012 has been the worst year for us as a country with respect to human rights," he said. "I think it’s certainly been a terrible year, but I do also see instances of hope and of optimism with respect to dealing with some of the challenges that we face in the country.”
He says his agency is engaging with the South African government to address the human rights challenges – and cited one notable success: providing nearly universal education.
Human Rights Watch acknowledged that the government has made some positive moves, such as strengthening farmworkers’ rights and being the continent’s leader in protecting the rights of gays and lesbians.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs