Centre News & Events: 2015
Press statement: Speaker should unconditionally apologise for inflammatory remark

The Centre for Human Rights feels compelled to comment on recent remarks by the South African Speaker of the House of Assembly, when she said "If we don't work we will continue to have cockroaches like Malema roaming all over the place," at the Mmabatho Civic Centre in Mafikeng.

We are saddened and alarmed by the use of the term 'cockroach' to dehumanise a political adversary. Let it be clearly stated: Our concern is not about the personalities involved, but about the principle at stake.

The Speaker is not only a prominent public figure. She is also, above all, the symbol of fair play in the primary space for democratic deliberation in our country. According to Parliament’s web page, she is the ‘leader’ of the National Assembly and should ensure that its processes are in accordance with the Constitution. Her remark can therefore not be brushed aside as a thoughtless utterance in the heat of political debate.

The remark can also not in any way be justified as having been made in her capacity as ANC Chairperson. On the contrary, holding this position adds to her profile, and exacerbates the noxious impact of her remark. In any event, when the ANC Chairperson makes remarks related directly to her function as Speaker, she can hardly hide behind the duality of functions. If anything, the controversy highlights the real potential for conflict arising from the same person holding the offices of both ANC Chairperson and Speaker.



Prof Frans Viljoen addresses Commonwealth parliamentarians at a conference celebrating 800 years of the Magna Carta

On 4 and 5 February 2015, the Commonwealth Parliamentarians Association UK held a conference to celebrate 800 years of the Magna Carta. The Conference 'Human Rights in the Modern Day Commonwealth: Magna Carta to Commonwealth Charter’ brought together nearly 50 Commonwealth parliamentarians to explore the fundamental importance of human rights and the development of protections for these rights in law from 1215 to 2015.

Prof Frans Viljoen, the Director of the Centre for Human Rights addressed parliamentarians in a session on the conflicts between protection for human rights and cultural values. Prof Viljoen examined the concept of culture, which he suggested was often used as shorthand for ‘the views of the majority.’ He also emphasised that any claim to ‘cultural override’ of a human right could not stand without a proportionality test, and that such a test must be considered within a human rights framework.

In a once-in a generation occurrence, parliamentarian delegates were then joined by Commonwealth scholars for a hugely impressive exhibition in the House of Lords, having come from the British Library, which reunited the four original copies of Magna Carta for the first time since they were sealed 800 years ago.



Colloquium on the powers and functions of the Office of the Public Protector

On Wednesday 4 February 2015, the Centre for Human Rights and the Law Society of South Africa hosted a colloquium titled “Quo Vadis Public Protector”. The panelists were Mr John Jeffrey (South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development), Adv Thuli Madonsela (South Africa’s Public Protector), Justice Zak Yacoob (retired judge of the South African Constitutional Court), Prof Mtende Mhango (Deputy Head of the School of Law, University of the Witswatersrand) and Mr Law Naidoo (Executive Secretary, Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution).

Participants included legal practitioners from across the country, academics and students. The facilitator at the event was Mr Max Boqwana (Co-Chairperson, Law Society of South Africa). The colloquium took place at the Groenkloof Campus of the University of Pretoria where the Faculty of Education is based. Prof Irma Eloff (Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Pretoria) and Prof Frans Viljoen (Director, Centre for Human Rights) welcomed the guests.

The colloquium was organised to discuss recent developments around the decisions of the South African Public Protector especially in light of a recent court judgment in which it was held that her decisions are not binding. According to the judgment, the Public Protector’s decisions are recommendations to government departments and officials.



Zero tolerance for female genital mutilation in Eritrea?

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation: 6 February 2015

February 6 – the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation – is dedicated annually to making the world aware of the harmful effects of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) and to promote its eradication [1]. FGM/C involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia; a deep form of discrimination against women and girls, it directly violates their right to health, and physical integrity. The practice is rooted in cultural and religious beliefs of communities who perceive it as a social obligation to control female sexuality and ‘preserve or protect’ a woman’s chastity.

The most common form of FGM/C in Eritrea is ‘infubulation[2]’. During the procedure, the child’s legs and hips are tied together to limit movement – often for several weeks afterward to allow healing. The age for circumcising of a girl varies amongst cultural groups, but can range from one month old to 15 years. A traditional circumciser commonly performs the act within communities; close relatives or neighbours can also act as circumcisers.



Call for Applications: Tobacco Control Capacity Building Workshop

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) and the Centre for Human Rights at the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria invite applications to attend a Tobacco Control Capacity Building Workshop on 30 and 31 March 2015.

About the Workshop

The tobacco industry uses every tool at its disposal to delay, weaken and prevent global tobacco control policies to protect the industry’s pecuniary interests and profits. Increasingly, the industry is resorting to international trade and investment law regimes to frustrate tobacco control.

This workshop is therefore part of CTFK’s on-going work to counter this industry action, by partnering with CHR and bringing together a group of trade and investment law specialists in Africa to give a deeper understanding of tobacco control policies and how they commonly intersect with trade and investment laws. Besides, the workshop will provide a platform to establish a network of legal specialists who can be looked upon to provide sound and in-depth technical support when trade and investment issues threaten tobacco control policies in African nations.



South Africa must strongly reject xenophobia

The Centre for Human Rights expresses serious displeasure at the recent xenophobic attacks and looting of foreign-owned shops in Soweto, Atteridgeville and other areas within the Gauteng province of South Africa.

The recent xenophobic violence has laid bare the aching soul of our nation and challenged each one of us to re-examine what we are doing to preserve the delicate social fabric of the post-1994 democratic South Africa. It is true that the greatest display of African unity was its undivided solidarity with the struggle against apartheid. It is sadly ironic, therefore, that those who lost their lives and property have done so at the hands of the very people whose humanity a united Africa had fought for.

The Centre for Human Rights wishes to remind the South African government that it is obligated to respond to this grave situation in line with its international obligations, specifically under the following treaties:
  • African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 1981.
  • OAU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, 1969.
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966.
Furthermore, the Centre for Human Rights wishes to remind the South African government and South Africans that the Constitution of our nation recognises human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms as fundamental to the fabric of the nation. Hence, anyone acting contrary to these values is in contravention of the Constitution. These attacks both revive the horrors of apartheid and raise the spectre of targeted killings reminiscent of the 1994 Rwanda genocide.



Centre hosts Dutch Special Envoy for the Global Conference on Cyberspace (GCCS2015)

On 27 January the Centre for Human Rights hosted the Dutch Special Envoy for the Global Conference on Cyberspace, Mr Uri Rosenthal, who outlined the topics of the Global Conference on Cyberspace (GCCS2015) that will be held in The Netherlands, The Hague, in April 2015.

Mr Rosenthal, a previous Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, is in the process of conducting consultations across the world, to inform the planning and priorities of the GCCS2015.

The fourth Conference on Cyberspace GCCS2015 has three key objectives: a) to support implementation and practical cooperation, b) to promote capacity building and knowledge exchange in cyberspace and c) to discuss norms for responsible behaviour in cyberspace. In order to achieve these there will be four focus sessions dealing with international security, socio-economic topics, cyber-criminality and freedom and privacy.

In the discussion following a short speech by Mr Rosenthal, attention was brought to specific issues of African countries concerning cyberspace, for example access to the internet, freedom of expression, data security, protection of children online and questions on how to address the use of the internet by terrorists to recruit young people for their cause.



New PULP publication:Convergence and Conflicts of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in Military Operations

The publication 'Convergence and Conflicts of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in Military Operations' (edited by Erika de Wet and Jann Kleffner and published by the Pretoria University Law Press) is now available online.

The book explores the implications of the increased interplay between international human rights law (IHRL) and international humanitarian law (IHL) in military operations, sometimes in ways that imply convergence and other times in ways that suggest conflict. These convergences and/ or conflicts are particularly acute in non-international armed conflicts, situations of belligerent occupation and in the area of peace support operations (PSOs). Non-international armed conflicts imply that individuals, including members of organized non-state armed groups and civilians that directly participate in hostilities, are ‘within the jurisdiction’ of the territorial state against whom they are fighting. IHRL and IHL may therefore apply in parallel. In a similar vein, the control exercised by a belligerent occupant regularly entails an exercise of ‘jurisdiction’ and hence triggers the applicability of human rights norms. As far as PSOs are concerned, it becomes increasingly difficult to classify them as taking place in a context of ‘peace’ or ‘armed conflict’. More often than not, the situation implies elements of both.



East Africa consultation on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights, Nairobi, Kenya
The Centre for Human Rights, together with the Institute for Human Rights and Business' office in Kenya, hosted a consultation for East Africa on behalf of the African Commission Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights violations in Nairobi, Kenya, from 19 - 21 January 2015. The consultation brought together representatives from civil society, national human rights institutions, affected communities and role players from the extractive sector in East Africa for a three day consultation focusing on challenges, best practices and the way forward in the sub-region. The Working Group was represented by Commissioners Pacifique Manirakiza and Lawrence Mute, and Expert Members Clement Voule, Sheila Keetharuth and Eric Kassongo.

The East Africa sub-regional consultation involved several panel presentations focusing on the different country contexts, and included views on Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Rwanda. Thematic issues that were discussed over the course of the sub-regional consultation included the role of national human rights institutions in promoting a human rights based approach to extractive industry governance, the accountability of state and non-state actors with regard to corporate human rights abuse, the experiences of human rights defenders working in the field, experiences of affected communities, benefit sharing practices, and the environmental impacts of extractive industries in East Africa.



The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information for Africa undertakes advocacy visit to Seychelles

From 19 to 21 January 2015, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, undertook an advocacy visit to the Republic of Seychelles. The purpose of the visit was to meet with government officials to advocate for the adoption of an access to information law in accordance with regional and international standards on access to information as embodied in the Model Law on Access to Information for Africa (Model Law). The Special Rapporteur was accompanied during this visit by 3 expert members of the Working Group which developed the Model Law.

During her visit, the Special Rapporteur met with high-level government officials including: His Excellency, President James Michel, president of the Republic of Seychelles, Mr Jean-Paul Adam, Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Justice D. Karunakaran, Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Honourable Dr. Patrick Herminie, Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Rony Govinden, Attorney General, as well as Mr Ibrahim Afif, Chair of the Seychelles Media Commission and other members of the Commission.

The Special Rapporteur and her delegation also held a meeting with civil society organisations, including members of the recently constituted Citizen Engagement Platform of Seychelles (CESP).



Commissioner Pansy Tlakula (Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa) with His Excellency, President James Michel, President of the Republic of Seychelles
African Human Rights Law Journal: Volume 1 No 2 2014 is now available

The latest edition of the African Human Rights Law Journal (AHRLJ Volume 1 No 2 2014) is now available on the Open Access Journal's website. All the previous editions are also available on the website.

This issue of the African Human Rights Law Journal boasts a record number of contributions. This growth testifies to the increasing number of contributions submitted to the Journal and, we would argue, speaks both to its recognition as a respected outlet for scholarship on human rights in Africa, and to the greater visibility the Journal enjoys since becoming fully and freely accessible online.

The contributions appearing in the ‘regular’ part of the Journal span a wide array of thematic areas and approaches, and reflect the diverse nature of contemporary human rights concerns in Africa. Some are philosophical in nature, reflecting on the nature of ‘African values’, such as ubuntu (the article by Metz); and others are more historical in nature, for example, the article by Haskins that traces the link between contemporary homophobia in Africa and Roman law. A number of contributions look at institutional evolutions related to Africa, for example, the UN Universal Periodic Review, and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the articles by Smith and Naldi respectively).



University of Zambia to host the 24th African Human Rights Moot Court Competition

The Centre for Human Rights is delighted to announce that the 24th edition of the African Human Rights Moot Court Competition will be held from 31 August to 5 September 2015 at the University of Zambia.

Online Faculty registration (Step 1) opens at Thursday 29 January 2015.

The African Human Rights Moot Court Competition is the largest annual gathering of students and lecturers of law on the continent and one of the premier events on the African Human Rights calendar. Since it was established in 1992, the Moot Court Competition has been held in 17 different African countries, spreading a unique message of human rights through the instrument of law. For law students, the Moot Court Competition has become the most sought-after meeting place for future human rights professionals. Apart from providing the perfect platform to sharpen their litigating skills, Africa’s youngest and brightest are able to measure themselves against their peers from all over the continent, and forge institutional and personal links that last a lifetime.



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