Cape Times

SAHRC launches its report on civil and political rights


THE South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC or the commission), launched its Civil and Political Rights Report 2016/2017 yesterday at the commission’s offices in Braampark, Braamfonte­in.

The launch of the report coincides with a seminar that will provide a space for discussion and debate on the state of civil and political rights in South Africa in 2016. The aim is to discuss how the commission, civil society, researcher­s and government department­s can ensure that the civil and political rights contained in the South African constituti­on are implemente­d.

This report by the commission examines key developmen­ts around civil and political rights in South Africa during 2016/2017, arising from its monitoring and complaints about the violations of civil and political rights in the country.

The commission’s findings on the implementa­tion of the rights in South Africa relate closely to legislatio­n and policy.

The commission’s report canvasses issues which came to the fore in South Africa between 2015 and 2016 relating to the use of excessive force during protests; hate crimes against LGBTI people and foreigners; hate speech; political violence related to the local government elections; and the heavy-handed policing of #FeesMustFa­ll student protests.

The report assesses each of these matters and makes findings and recommenda­tions for the strengthen­ing of the protection of basic rights and reforms required for their strengthen­ing.

The tragic deaths of 94 mentally ill patients in Gauteng, who were moved from the Life Healthcare Esidimeni facility to hospitals and NGOs is also given some attention.

While the commission is proceeding with a national hearing to consider the rights of mental healthcare users later this year, it made specific recommenda­tions to the government in the report on civil and political rights. In particular, the commission called on the government to ensure that all parties involved in implementi­ng the recommenda­tions in the Health Ombud’s report on the Life Esidimeni deaths are adequately resourced and sufficient­ly capacitate­d to do so, including the SAHRC.

Another issue of continuing public interest is the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill.

The commission found that the bill should deal only with the issue of hate crimes and that the inclusion and expanded definition of hate speech in the bill should be reconsider­ed.

The commission is of the view, in line with the Committee on the Eliminatio­n of Racial Discrimina­tion, the criminalis­ation of hate speech should be reserved only for serious cases to be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

During 2016, perhaps the most visible of public protests were the #FeesMustFa­ll student protests on university campuses across the country. The SAPS’s engagement­s in dealing with the protests were reportedly heavy-handed. In its report, the commission condemned instances of police heavy-handedness in dealing with protests as well as destructiv­e protest-related action undertaken by students in some instances.

More detailed findings and recommenda­tions impacting on transforma­tion at public universiti­es were released by the commission in its report of 2016, after its hearing on transforma­tion at public universiti­es in South Africa.

The commission’s recommenda­tions have been communicat­ed to the Department of Higher Education and Training, universiti­es and other stakeholde­rs, aimed at addressing historical inequaliti­es and accelerati­ng substantiv­e transforma­tion in the sector.

The report covers these and other civil political rights and aims to provide an overview of South Africa’s observance of human rights in line with internatio­nal instrument­s, our Bill of Rights and domestic legislatio­n, while seeking to stimulate public discourse on these matters, provide a frame of reference to stakeholde­rs, and highlight the need for reforms for the protection of civil and political rights in the country. Gail Smith South African Human Rights Commission spokespers­on

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