European Union External Action

EU Annual report on Human Rights and Democracy in the world, 2018 Country Update - South Africa

South Africa, 22/05/2019 - 16:03, UNIQUE ID: 190522_16
Factsheets

EU Annual report on Human Rights and Democracy in the world, 2018 Country Update - South Africa

South Africa

  1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: Realisation of socio-economic rights for all and elimination of all forms of discrimination and inequality remain the country's biggest challenge. 2018 saw the national debate brought forward on several complex issues, such as: gender-based violence; universal healthcare; land reform and linked to this, the acrimonious existence of traditional/customary and common law rights and systems further entrenching inequality. The new leadership, receptive to societal pressure, undertook an active role. The fight against high-level corruption entered a new dynamic, exposing the extent of erosion of institutions. Restoring the trust of citizens will be a challenging task, but some promising steps have already been taken. Positioning of parties ahead of general elections in May 2019 has polarised society, politicising key issues like land reform or migration, creating space for populist narratives, with the underlying risks of increasing racism and xenophobia. During 2018, journalists have faced open and repeated harassment and threats from opposition parties. Threats and harassment of human rights defenders (HRDs), particularly active in mining and environmental sectors, have raised particular concerns, as noted by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. An active and robust media, civil society and an independent judiciary – credited with a significant contribution to bringing about the leadership transition early 2018 - continued to play a key role in protecting rule of law and fundamental democratic rights. There have been encouraging signs on a more value-based foreign policy, but its scope will depend on the outcome of elections.
  1. EU action- key focus areas: The EU collective action in 2018, whether through political and policy dialogue and outreach at different levels, or by means of technical and financial assistance and public diplomacy, addressed the following priority areas:
  • Rule of Law, access to justice and the fight against impunity; reinforcement of accountability mechanisms, including Legislature, Judiciary and Chapter 9 Institutions;
  • Socio-Economic Rights;
  • Gender Equality, Women Empowerment and Gender Based Violence;
  • Inclusion: Migrants, racism, LGBTi and disabilities;
  • International Dimension of Human rights.
  1. EU bilateral political engagement: The 5th EU-South Africa Human Rights Dialogue held in Pretoria on 27 March 2018 focused on improving cooperation in key issues on the multilateral human rights agenda, including the death penalty moratorium, business and human rights and an exchange of views on the functioning of the Human Rights Council (HRC), in the context of the upcoming review, and on domestic human rights issues in South Africa linked to EU support. These included ratification of OPCAT, gender based violence and socio-economic rights. The EU-South Africa summit (15 November 2018) agreed to strengthen cooperation on human rights at the UN HRC and other multilateral fora. The South Africa-EU Inter-parliamentary meeting (31 October-1 November 2018) also addressed a number of human rights issues, including sharing experiences on land reform and condemning modern slavery and calling for international cooperation to fight it. The EU Delegation and Member States continued regular outreach to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation ahead of human rights multilateral meetings, to share and deepen understanding of respective positions.
  1. EU financial engagement: EU financial assistance was channelled primarily through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), the thematic lines of the Development Cooperation Instrument (Civil Society Organisations and Local Authorities; Justice; Education; Health). Substantial support programmes on Enhancing Legislature Oversight, improving access to socio-economic rights and gender equality were either launched or continued during 2018. Targeted activities provided support to the South African authorities in: (i) drafting of legislation (e.g. The Smuggling of Migrants Bill); (ii) implementing the National Action Plan against Racism (design data collection methods) and the National Strategy for LGBTI people (fast track justice for homophobic incidents), respectively; (iii) preparing for the establishment of a National Preventive Mechanism, in order to accelerate the ratification of OPCAT; (iv) preparing a national cybersecurity framework legislation; v) identifying possible measures to address illicit financial flows being diverted to foreign jurisdictions; vi) capacity building for conflict resolution for the IEC senior management staff at national and provincial level, ahead of general polls in 2019.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) are important dialogue and implementation partners in all activities. In addition, the EU provided more than 10 specialised trainings days in 2018 and supported the production of 10 short movies highlighting the work done by CSOs to promote human rights. Extensive public diplomacy efforts throughout the year culminated in a joint public event with the government and OHCHR on 7 December 2018, to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with the participation of Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and President Ramaphosa.

  1. Multilateral context: Member of the UN Human Rights Council for a second consecutive mandate, South Africa has been an unpredictable and challenging partner on Country Specific Resolutions, but also on issues related to business and human rights or LGBTI. First ever recommendations of the UN Committees on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights  (September 2018) and on the Rights of People with disabilities (October 2018) called, among other, on South Africa to withdraw its Declaration in relation to article 13 (2)a and 14 of the ICRSCR and ensure free primary education for all, including children with disabilities, migrant, refugee and asylum seeking children, a significant number of which (including approximately half a million children with disabilities) remain outside the school system.

The encouraging signs that under President Ramaphosa the country may start pursuing again a value-based foreign policy, underpinned by the values and principles of its progressive Constitution were timidly followed through. South Africa support for the UN resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar in December 2018 was a first step in an announced shift in its voting patterns in multilateral fora, suggesting there may be room for increased EU-South Africa cooperation.

The notice of withdrawal and an alternative draft legal framework regulating international crimes, i.e. International Crimes Bill, have stalled in Parliament since being submitted end of 2017.

The full report can be found here

 

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