Universal Periodic Review


First session meeting highlights

15 April 2008 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by South Africa this afternoon, during which 44 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on the Philippines, following the review of the country on Friday, 11 April.

Presenting the national report of South Africa was GLAUDINE J. MTSHALI, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations Office at Geneva, remarked that South Africa had a unique history that still impacted greatly on its efforts to build a new democracy on a foundation of human rights. Both the colonial and apartheid systems had left the legacy of a deeply fractured State and society and the need for massive socio-economic redress and development. With the advent of democracy in 1994, the South African Government created a political space for all the rights enumerated in the Constitution to be practically enjoyed. The South African Constitutional imperatives called for the enactment of enabling legislation in substantiation of all rights enumerated in the Constitution in order to ensure substantive equality and non-discrimination. To this end, the South African Parliament passed several fundamental legislative acts. Following the first democratic election in 1994, the South African Government adopted a macro-economic development framework known as the Reconstruction and Development Programme whose primary objective was to achieve a better life for all, address historical legacies of inequalities occasioned by centuries of oppression through colonialism and apartheid.

Many gains had been made despite the many challenges facing the Government, the Ambassador noted. South Africa’s human rights value system was founded on the notion of equality for all and its Constitution guaranteed all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. The legacy of apartheid continued to manifest itself in many fields. Despite certain gains achieved and economic growth, the economy still manifested imbalances and poverty and lack of economic empowerment persisted. There were still high levels of unemployment and negative impacts of globalization on a society of more than 20 million economically active persons. South Africa was one of the first countries to declare access to water as a human right and had taken numerous efforts to respect the right to food and housing. Socio-economic rights had been put on equal footing with civil and political rights. South Africa had signed and ratified most international treaties without any reservations and extended a standing invitation to the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. National institutions were actively involved in monitoring South Africa’s compliance to international instruments and were in full compliance with the Paris Principles. It was also recalled that South Africa hosted the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights regional office and had regularly contributed financially to Office.

Equitable social development was a major long-term challenge for the State, the Ambassador added. The new administration embarked on new Government reforms and enacted various policies to enhance the standards of living of all South Africans. Of special note was the State’s housing policy. More than nine million people had benefited from the programme by way of receiving basic services. Access to water was one of the many aspects of these programmes. South Africa recognized the right to water as a basic human right with some 10 million additional people having received access to water. South Africa was a country of racial, ethnic and cultural diversity and its national legislation was based on equality of all. The Constitution guaranteed equality between men and women and efforts were being made to enhance women’s participation in public and political life. Efforts were also being made to eliminate all forms of violence against women. It was recalled that the State had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Government’s framework on poverty reduction aimed at improving wealth distribution and alleviating the social barriers faced by the poor by providing basic services. Establishment of the social security network supported 10 million children and was in partnership with the United Nations. The State was also introducing new measures to upgrade levels of education and was committed to achieving universal education by 1025, in line with the MDGs. There was a strategic plan on HIV/AIDS focused on prevention. BY 2007 more than 370,000 were integrated on anti-retroviral therapy.

During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included legislation to protect children; the adoption of numerous legislation to safeguard human rights and to build a multi-cultural and democratic society; the State’s accession to the major international treaties and cooperation with the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council; efforts to eradicate extreme poverty; measures to promote gender equality; the establishment of commissions on gender equality, inter-cultural affairs and on law reform; the efforts to uphold the right to health and the State’s campaign on HIV/AIDS; the declaration of water as a human right; the State’s efforts to uphold the right to adequate housing and the right to education; and measures to prevent torture and the proper treatment of persons in detention. Many delegations lauded the State for the significant progress achieved following the era of apartheid and in its fight against racism and racial discrimination and for its efforts in building a democratic society.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions; the intention of the State to ban corporal punishment; policies and measures adopted top promote the rights of women, especially women’s reproductive rights; steps take to implement gender perspective into the UPR process; police handling of cases of domestic violence; resources available to implement the Sexual Offences Bill to reduce the levels of sexual violence in the country; steps taken to ensure the effectiveness of access to the Information Act; efforts undertaken to promote universal primary education especially among the disadvantaged sections of society; access to HIV/AIDS and measures to improve equal access to health care and treatment for women suffering from HIV/AIDS; sensitization campaigns to prevent sex offences; measures taken to ensure the full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by disadvantaged groups; efforts to improve the security of its citizens, especially vulnerable groups, in particular women and children; the scope of the amendments to the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land, currently under review in the South African Parliament; and best practices on improving access to water in the country.

Other issues pertained to measures to protect the rights of Zimbabwean refuges and asylum seekers and to address reports of increased violence against Zimbabweans in South Africa; efforts to improve the treatment of asylums seekers and to increase asylum seekers’ access to the asylum system; the State’s racism policies and measures envisaged to abolish the remnants of the Apartheid era; efforts of the State to prevent acts of torture; plans of the State to ratify the Convention on Migrant Workers and actions taken with regard to the integration of migrants; to rectify the socio-economic inequalities; efforts to combat xenophobia against non-nationals; the State’s programme of action to combat hate crimes; the Government’s campaign to reduce xenophobia; major obstacles in coordinating the drafting and submission of their treaty body reports; and whether South African intended to sign and ratify the Convention on enforced and involuntary disappearances. One question posed was how the international community could assist South Africa in tackling its health care challenges, especially with regard to HIV/AIDS.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; to adopt appropriate legislation to implement the principle of absolute prohibition of torture and to elaborate on the measures the Government intended to take in order to ensure that the reported systematic use of torture was abolished; to ratify the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; to include the gender perspective in the follow up to the UPR process; to take additional measures to prevent gender-based violence; to take concrete and effective measures to ensure the proper handling by the police of cases of domestic violence; to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; and to ensure that mechanisms for supervising procedures on the protection of asylum seekers and refuges were strengthened.

Other recommendations included: To take measures to address inequities in access to HIV/AIDS treatment and support; to further intensify its efforts to decrease HIV/AIDS prevalence in the context of its National Health Charter with special focus on teenagers; to continue its efforts to promote and facilitate school attendance, especially children from economically disadvantaged families; to step up its efforts to ensure poverty alleviation; to continue its pursuit of ensuring that marginalized and previously disadvantaged members of the community participated in the political, socio and economic life as equal partners; to continue to promote an protect the rights of all persons to equality without discrimination based on sexual orientation, at both the national and international levels; and to provide a mediation machinery for victims of discrimination of sexual orientation to facilitate accessible and rapid remedies.

The delegation of South Africa provided responses to a series of questions posed to it during the course of the discussion. As to discrimination and racist attitudes, the Ambassador stated that some remnants of colonialism and apartheid attitudes were still in existence in South Africa. Equality courts were established and were available to the average South African. Initiatives were also available in the work place to ensure women were not discriminated against. The Department of Home Affairs set up a counter xenophobia unit, which promoted a human rights-based culture. As to illegal evictions, there were two recent landmark constitutional decisions stating that there should be an emergency plan in place in the event someone was evicted. Resettlements where the State had been involved were done so through a court judgment. Concerning freedom of expression, the head of delegation affirmed that the freedom of expression and opinion was upheld in the country; however any incitement to cause harm or hate speech was not supported. On health care, the delegation noted that free health care services were provided in the country, therefore there was no such thing as unequal access to health care services, per se. Concerning HIV/AIDS, the Government of South Africa created a pricing regulation to allow access to cheaper drugs thus allowing those most in need to receive medicines.

On questions of torture, the State had adopted a policy to ensure that any incidents of torture were thoroughly investigated with a human rights approach. There was also a civilian oversight mechanism allowing for inspections of prisons. South Africa had ratified the Convention against Torture and the Constitution outlawed torture in all circumstances, even in cases of a state of emergency. As to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, amnesty was granted to deserving applicants and, in terms of compensation, 90% of the applicants had been paid 30,000 African Rand each [3,700 USD]. The Commission concluded its work in 1999. On the issue of corporal punishment, the Government viewed such acts as a form of degrading, cruel and inhumane treatment and perpetrators were dealt with According to the Penal Code.

Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Slovenia, Canada, Malaysia, China, Angola, Senegal, Cuba, the Russian Federation, Egypt, Pakistan, Mexico, Ghana, Sri Lanka, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Brazil, Zambia, India, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Romania, Jordan and Bangladesh.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Guinea, Norway, the United States, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Australia, Algeria, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Mauritania, Denmark, Libya, Palestine, Botswana, Tunisia, the Sudan, Belgium, Tanzania and Iran.

The six-person on delegation of South Africa consisted of representatives of the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of South Africa are Zambia, Guatemala and Qatar.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on South Africa can be found here.

Adoption of report on the Philippines: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on the Philippines are Malaysia, Mali and Germany. Introducing the report HSU KING BEE (Malaysia) said reported that the members of the troika worked in close consultation with the Philippines in the preparation of the report. The delegation was to be commended to its comprehensive and constructive report. The report fully reflected the proceedings of the Working Group. Representing the State under review ENRIQUE MANALO, Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, said the Government of the Philippines had fully engaged civil society in drafting its Universal Periodic Review report, this engagement would continue in the follow up to the Universal Periodic Review report. Te report spoke to the seriousness The Philippines attached to the promotion and protection of human rights. The Philippines was of the view that the Universal Periodic Review could energize the human rights agenda within the international community. Among its voluntary commitments, the Government of the Philippines would continue to develop a gender-responsive approach to issues on women and children, including in the judicial system, and on violence against women; to continue to develop domestic legislation for the further protection of the rights of the child; to maintain the momentum on addressing killings of activists and the media; and to continue and find additional measures to meet the basic needs of the poor and other vulnerable sectors.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of South Africa on Friday, 18 April.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the Czech Republic after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of Algeria.

 Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp