Keynote address by Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Jeff Radebe, on the occasion of the celebration of the International Human Rights Day, Freedom Park, Pretoria
10 Dec 2009
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms N Pillay
Deputy Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa, Dikgang Moseneke
Leaders of political parties
Ladies and gentlemen
At the heart of adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was the imprint by leading minds of a generation that had just emerged from the most brutal blood letting as occasioned by the Second World War.
This adoption was a negation of those brutalities, and the consequences of whose violation of human rights shall forever make the human species ashamed of itself. It was a declaration that reminded me, a declaration made decades later by our former President Nelson Mandela, when in his 1994 inaugural presidential speech he said: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world”.
It was a declaration that, to quote former President Nelson Mandela again on his inaugural presidential speech: “Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud”.
The question that can be asked, can we truthfully assert that we are proud of the world that was to be born on the aftermath of the Second World War, following the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Have we as males and females, as different races, as rural and urban people, as various nation States, as economic powers, as north and the south, collectively embraced an appreciation of a common humanity? Have we not furthered our own interests at the detriment of the interests of those considered not akin to ourselves, however that is defined?
Regrettably, the history of the years subsequent to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights saw the world preoccupied by and in pursuit of social, political and economic power balance whose result was the perpetuation of barbarism that the declaration itself sought to bury. For instance; after the past centuries of colonialism and slavery, the erstwhile regime which took part in the Declaration of Human Rights put in place measures that offended against the very universal declaration by introducing institutionalised system of racial discrimination called apartheid.
In essence the apartheid regime introduced policies which were a direct undermining of human rights in our country. When the international community declared the recognition of inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, the apartheid regime introduced a system of divide and rule characterised by racial segregation at all levels of life on the part of the oppressed majority of our people. They were subjected to untold injustice and brutality.
As a response to the aforesaid brutal and unjust system, struggles were wedged against this system by human rights leaders and activists of our country. The Defence campaign of the 1950’s was marked by the Anti-pass campaign and Sharpville massacre of unarmed women campaigners. This was followed by the armed struggle wedged against the regime from neighbouring countries. The international community, in response to the apartheid regime, adopted the international convention declaring apartheid as a crime against humanity. The Soweto 1976 uprisings, boycotts of the 1980’s and international sanctions dealt the last blow to the apartheid regime leading to the Grootte Schuur minute and talks about a new dispensation in the Convention for Democratic South Africa (CODESA).
The 1993 interim Constitution of the Republic of South Africa ushered the new South African society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. The 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa was adopted as a final Constitution and supreme law of the land. A number of laws were passed to repeal those of the apartheid system. Although the post 1994 democratic government has made advances in pushing back the legacy of apartheid by providing basic needs of previously disadvantaged groups such as water, electricity, housing and sanitation, there are some challenges.
Turning to the celebration of international human rights and theme ‘Embrace Diversity and End Discrimination’, this day marks the substantive participation of the South Africa democratic government in the initiatives of the United Nations after our readmission by the international community. To mark this, South Africa, on 10 December 1998, deposited instruments of accession to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT).
Having acceded to the ICCPR, the government is considering acceding to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as these instruments constitute the core United Nations Bill of Human Rights informed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination is the key instrument to ensure that the international community embrace diversity and end discrimination. The First and Second World conferences to combat racism and racial discrimination were held in Geneva in 1978 and 1983 respectively.
These were followed by the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Racial Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa in 2001 and the Durban Review conference held in Geneva in 2009. Whilst the first two mentioned conferences focused on the fight against racism and racial discrimination, the last two mentioned focused on contemporary forms of racism such as racial or religious intolerance and violence, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and anti-Arabism.
Inequality and racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are major causes of conflict and poverty in the world. Massive violations of human rights propelled by national interests of some members of the United Nations are a source of conflict situations such as the Palestine and Israel, Darfur (Sudan) and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). These situations are not only a threat to international peace and security, but a source of poverty and injustice.
The 2001 Durban conference recognised the need to develop programmes for social and economic development within the framework of new partnership in areas which include debt relief, poverty eradication, investment, agriculture and food security, transfer of technology and fight against HIV and AIDS. The Doha Trade conference also held in 2001, agreed on dismantling obstacles to trade for poor nations by striking an accord that would cut agriculture subsidies and tariffs on industrial goods. The 2002 Sandton World summit focused on sustainable development and conservation of the environment. Today the world is grappling with economic recession and climate change.
We need to embrace multilateralism as a viable mechanism to ensure peace and security. The international organisations, especially the Bretton Woods institutions must be transformed to address inequality amongst united member states and their people. This will assist in realising the millennium development goals. The G2O countries agreed that the world needs an integrated financial regulatory framework to deal with recessions which may ensue in the future.
Climate change poses a threat to sustainable development of nations, we need concerted efforts to reduce the levels of carbon emissions and move towards the embracement of renewal energy. Member states and their people must be frank in acknowledging that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are our challenges and we need an open dialogue and possible solutions in dealing with this scourge, which is the inequality and poverty experienced by a number of people, especially those in developing countries. This includes the realisation of objectives agreed to by afore mentioned conferences.
In conclusion the government of the Democratic Republic of South Africa and its people are players in Africa insofar as the issues of peace and security in conflict situations such as Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are concerned. These countries hold a key to social and economic development of the Africa region. Without peace, stability and security, Africa cannot prosper. It is disturbing to note from a United Nations’ recent report that some government officials in developing countries are fuelling conflict in Africa for their financial gains.
Apart from the Africa development agenda, South Africa is also a player in the south and south cooperation and the world social and economic mechanisms. South Africa will be playing host to the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament, dubbed African world soccer tournament. The global challenges of poverty, disease and underdevelopment require global solutions and the international movement towards financial regulatory framework and reduction of urban emissions are the issues in point.
As one human race with dignity, we must embrace diversity and end discrimination to ensure security and a better life for all. In line with the Africa and world agenda to advance social and economic development, the government of South Africa has adopted a Programme of Action in which poverty, rural development, education and health are amongst the priorities. On 1 December the government unveiled a strategy of dealing concretely with HIV and AIDS, which is a threat to security and development not only in South Africa, but the world over.
Ladies and gentlemen, despite the fact that we have witnessed the continued existence of the violation of human rights across the globe, we have nonetheless also witnessed the increased determination by the peoples and countries of the world to spearhead a culture of human rights for all the entire world population. Social movements have reason to the occasion in people driven and people centred programmes to inculcate human rights. The United Nations has continued to be the rallying point for a culture of human rights.
What is required is that all nations of the world must demonstrate such commitment if at all we are to make the vision adopted so many decades ago were to become the lived experience of all the people of the world without exception.
Indeed, working together as nations of the world, we can do more to make human rights borderless rights and truly universal.
Once again, on behalf of the President of the Republic of South Africa, our government and the people of South Africa, I must express our gratitude, for the honour bestowed on us, to host this very important event on behalf of the United nations, to commemorate this very remarkable values with regards to the evolution of human rights throughout the world. Human rights are the umbilical cord that unites all of us in our diversities in a shared humanity, hence the need to end all discriminations that have resulted in the violation of human rights in many ways.
I thank you!
Issued by: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
10 December 2009
Source: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (http://www.doj.go.za/)
Issued by: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
10 Dec 2009
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