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By Eric Naki

Political Editor

South Africa is well positioned to raise human rights issues – experts

SA, drawing from its apartheid history, boldly advocates for human rights globally. Minister Pandor urges reform at Human Rights Council.

South Africa is calling for a world based on human rights – and the country’s apartheid and democratic transition history allows it speak boldly on this issue, experts said.

They reacted to Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Dr Naledi Pandor’s call for the Human Rights Council to be “always fit for purpose”.

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Addressing the Human Rights Council’s 55th session on Monday, Pandor voiced concerns that the current divisions in the council were impeding its focus on victims of human rights in all regions of the world.

Experts said SA is well positioned to raise human rights issues at international levels because of its history of oppression and the subsequent 1994 democratic transition that was preceded by peaceful multiparty negotiations.

Prof Ntsikelelo Breakfast, Centre of Security, Peace and Conflict Resolution director, said since SA’s case at the International Court of Justice against alleged genocidal actions by Israel in Gaza, whatever issues the country raised would be noticed by the international community.

“Our image as South Africa subsequent to the ICJ ruling has improved. I think we were very brave to challenged Israel because that means we challenged the global north and exposed its double standards when it comes to human rights abuses,” Breakfast said.

As a result, South Africa opened itself up to criticism and isolation by the West, especially the US, with some congressmen mobilising for that, he said.

“When we raise issues in future, everyone will notice. But at the same time, our foreign policy is not consistent and we are quiet on human rights issues and undemocratic election outcomes in Africa,” Breakfast said.

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Political analyst Prof Dirk Kotzé said South Africa was not necessarily a mouthpiece for, or champion of international human rights, but its history of democratic transition and adoption of a human rights-based constitution lent it a significant role and responsibility to challenge human rights abuses anywhere in the world.

“South Africa gained an international reputation in the way it conducted the peaceful democratic negotiations – and taking the lead in the International Court of Justice was, to a large extent, linked to its experience of apartheid.

“It must ensure the international law is respected considering its history in the same way that Israel has its own history on holocaust, which made it protected from criticism,” Kotze said.

SA’s stature was enhanced after the ICJ ruling in January where the country’s claim of genocidal intent against Israel was found to be “plausible”.

Most of the Western countries backed Israel in the matter, but Israel was cautioned with conditionalities about its actions in Gaza. Delivering South Africa’s statement to the Human Rights Council, Pandor reiterated the country’s stance on human rights pertaining to Palestine and Western Sahara.

“We believe that it is our collective duty to ensure that the Human Rights Council is always fit for purpose. However, the current divisions in the council are impeding us from focusing on the victims of human rights in all regions of the world.

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“We need to address the current polarisation, selectivity and double standards in relation to human rights matters,” she said.

The minister said the international community needed to overcome the binary view and logic that “if you are not with us, you are against us”.

Pandor condemned the current “increasingly precarious international environment marked by sharp divisions, rising conflict, military confrontation and the deterioration of global peace and security”.

“We are witnessing the widespread destruction of lives and livelihoods where innocent civilians, including women and children, have become primary victims, with scant, if any, regard to international law, as we have seen of late in Gaza,” she said.

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