OPEN LETTER-SALC URGES SADC TO TAKE ACTION AGAINST XENOPHOBIA

Salc : Staff Writer

Dear SADC Chair,

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) is deeply concerned about the recent attacks against foreign nationals in South Africa that have claimed several lives including that of a 14 year old boy. In addition to the shocking level of blatant violence, the inadequate response from leaders is also serious cause for concern. Domestically and regionally leaders need to do more than merely condemn the violence and that understanding of responsible and proactive leadership forms the integral purpose of this letter.

On 17 August 1992, the heads of state of countries throughout Southern Africa signed the Declaration and Treaty of SADC, officially creating SADC. In this Treaty they committed to the promotion and protection of peace and security. In addition, article 4 of the Treaty calls for member states to act in accordance with the principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Now more than ever, SADC needs to show leadership and promote the rights protected and enshrined in the SADC Treaty.

We would like to call on SADC to encourage the South African government to do more than just condemn the violence. We request that you publically urge the South African government to take concrete steps to to end these attacks, prosecute perpetrators and protect non-nationals living in their territory from violations of their human rights, including the right to life.

As a civil society organisation based in and working on human rights issues on the African continent, we are particularly concerned about the loss of lives, injuries to persons, damage to private property and the dignity of non-nationals living in South Africa, which are a grave violation of their rights protected under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter). The right to life, not to be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to strict equality before the law are non-derogable rights – not dependent on a person’s status in a country.  The status of non-nationals who are victims of the attacks in South Africa is therefore irrelevant.

We note statements of several governments, including the South African government, to provide assistance for individuals leaving the country. While those who wish to leave should be assisted in leaving, the solution to the violence should not be to repatriate all non-nationals, but to ensure an environment in the country in which their rights are protected. Furthermore, the acts of those carrying out attacks against non-nationals should not be rewarded by assisting them to achieve their objective of ridding South Africa of non-nationals. In this regard we remind you of the commitments made in the SADC declaration that “peace and mutual security are critical components of the total environment for regional cooperation and integration…the region therefore needs to establish a framework and mechanisms to strengthen regional solidarity and provide for mutual peace and security.”

While some statements have been made to condemn the violence, we are concerned that not enough concrete steps are being taken to prevent such attacks, prosecute perpetrators, protect non-nationals and prevent the mass coerced exodus of non-nationals from the country.

We request that SADC call upon the government of South Africa to:

–          Protect non-nationals from further attacks, including by increasing police presence in all high-risk areas and immediately implementing conflict resolution initiatives in these areas involving the Department of Home Affairs.

–          Provide further humanitarian assistance to internally displaced non-nationals in the country, including counselling for trauma.

–          Bring perpetrators of violence against non-nationals to justice. To facilitate such prosecutions the Department of Justice should set up special courts, as was done during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, to deal with all cases of violence against non-nationals in a bid to ease the burden on the courts.

In 2008, the xenophobic attacks left at least 62 dead, hundreds wounded, and contributed to the displacement of 100,000 people or more. Following those attacks the South African Human Rights Commission prepared a report with their findings and recommendations.[1] We call on you to remind the South African government of this report and call upon the government to immediately implement the recommendations found therein.

In addition, we request you to call upon governments of other SADC countries to ensure steps are taken to prevent reprisals against South African nationals in their territories.

Regional action and engagement on this issue is paramount to its resolution. We urge SADC to lead the region thorough this tumultuous time and to foster a spirt of peace and security.

Kind regards,

 

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh

Executive Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre

SALC received a response from SADC.

 

[1]Report on the SAHRC Investigation into Issues of Rule of Law, Justice and Impunity arising out of the 2008 Public Violence against Non-Nationals, available at  http://www.sahrc.org.za/home/21/files/Reports/Non%20Nationals%20Attacks%20Report_1-50_2008.pdf