Human rights in focus

Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

The South African Human Rights Commission this week launched its first journal that can be described as a barometer of human rights post-apartheid.

The inaugural Human Rights Journal, with contributions by HRC researchers, reviews the impact and effect of human rights practices in South Africa with the advent of democracy.

The HRC is the statutory watchdog of human rights practices and violations.

The journal focuses on contentious issues, among them the disbanding of the Scorpions.

Also in review are last year's electricity crisis, HIV-Aids, equality and national security. Emphasis is made on how these affect the poor.

Senior researcher on crime and human rights Danzel van Zyl warns that the disbanding of the Scorpions will widen the disparities between the country's rich and poor.

"By disbanding the unit, the heat is taken off the rich and powerful.

"There is undue focus on crimes perpetrated by the poor, while white-collar crimes are being ignored.

"There are about 6000 people in jail for being in possession of illegal substances with a street value of less than R1000, while people like Glen Agliotti are able to avoid jail time for their part in the smuggling of hashish worth more than R250million," says Van Zyl.

HRC chief executive officer Tseliso Thipanyane argues for a definition of national security that went beyond "military-based security" by focusing on the protection of the rights, safety and freedoms of citizens.

He cites last year's violence against foreigners as a breach to the country's security that also had a negative effect on South Africa's reputation internationally.

Analyst Andrew Miller expresses concern about the threats to the safety of the poor posed by last year's power cuts.

"When fierce competition for resources becomes a global reality it is questionable whether even the most basic human rights such as the right to life and safety from physical violence will be secure for any but the exceptionally wealthy," says Miller.

He says the power cuts were hard and a wake-up call to the "air-conditioned classes" who were used to living in a "comfortable bubble of energy supply".

Researcher Steven Ngobeni says the government should strengthen its HIV-Aids prevention measures and provide affordable treatment as South Africans "spent more time at funerals than having their hair cut, shopping or having barbecues".