‘SA faced a number of human rights challenges in 2015’

Nkandla‚ Al-Bashir‚ Marikana and xenophobic attacks were among “a number of human rights challenges” South Africa faced in 2015‚ according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Wednesday.

On Marikana‚ the HRW welcomed that the “report of the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the deaths of 44 people‚ including the police killing of 34 miners in 2012‚ was finally published”‚ but said “civil society groups and the families of the deceased and injured expressed disappointment with the findings”.

“They said the commission ignored key evidence presented by mine workers who testified and instead relied heavily on police description of the events‚” the HRW said.

The South African Police Services (SAPS) also featured as “a number of incidents in 2015 highlighted police brutality and the use of excessive and disproportionate force”.

Among the examples cited was the November 11 sentencing of “eight former policemen to 15 years in prison for the 2013 murder of Mido Macia‚ a Mozambican taxi driver…who died in police custody after being tied up by his arms to a police truck and dragged behind along the tarmac road”.

It also noted the 10 police officers who “were arrested and charged with torturing and murdering Khuthazile Mbedu who was allegedly assaulted and tasered in Tembisa‚ east of Johannesburg”.

The HRW report noted that the defence force had to be deployed to help stem a wave of xenophobic attacks in April during which “thousands of people looted foreign-owned shops and attacked non-South African nationals”.

 A second flare-up of tension against foreigners occurred in October in Grahamstown and “displaced more than 500 people”.

“Statements by traditional leaders and government officials may have fuelled the violence‚” said the HRW‚ highlighting Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini’s utterance that foreigners should “pack their bags and go home”.

The HRW criticised government as it did “not publicly and unambiguously condemn Zwelithini’s reckless and inflammatory statements”.

“South Africa’s inconsistent foreign policy once again came to the fore” when “it violated a court order and permitted President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan to leave the country despite South Africa’s international legal obligations to arrest him” on International Criminal Court (ICC) warrants.

“While South Africa regularly supports conflict mediation efforts on the continent‚ it has proven reluctant to protect the rights of victims at the UN Human Rights Council‚ and at times taken decisions contrary to its stated human rights principles‚” the HRW commented

On education‚ “an estimated half-a-million children with disabilities have been shut out of South Africa’s education system”‚ the HRW declared.

It said that‚ despite the 2001 adoption of “a policy of providing inclusive education for all children with disabilities…the majority of the limited budget for learners with disabilities is allocated to special‚ segregated schools rather than to inclusive education”.

“Contrary to the government’s international and domestic obligations‚ many children are turned away from mainstream schools and referred to special schools by school officials or medical staff simply because they have a disability‚” the report said.

On a positive education note‚ however‚ South Africa was commended for becoming “the first country to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration at a global conference in Norway in May 2015”.

“By joining the declaration‚ it agreed to protect students and education in times of conflict‚ and to avoid using educational building for military purposes.”

South Africa was also praised for having “a progressive constitution that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and protects the human rights of lesbian‚ gay‚ bisexual and transgender people”.

“The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has taken significant steps to improve co-ordination between government and civil society in combating violence (including rape and murder) against lesbians and transgender men‚” the HRW said.