On 8 May 2023, the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, submitted a complaint on behalf of two South African citizens, Mr Sello Tsolo and Mr Tjoko Kambule, to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) against the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

For the past decade, UAE authorities have two men hostage through the nation's debt laws that arguably are in violation of international law. Both individuals have resided on the veranda of the South African Embassy in Abu Dhabi for some six years without any prospects of returning to South Africa.

Mr Tsolo, a former project manager for the Setsoto Local Municipality, and Mr Kambule, a businessman, were both deceived into signing acknowledgements of debt in Arabic, amounting to USD 131,600 (ZAR 2 million) and USD 145,425 (ZAR 2.7 million), respectively. After serving between 2 and 3 years in prison for failing to repay these fraudulent debts, they remain barred from leaving the UAE until their debts are cleared.

This complaint to the UNWGAD follows unsuccessful diplomatic efforts with the UAE to secure the release of the two South African citizens. In June 2022, discussions were held by the Tsolo family with the South African government (represented by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation), after the submission of a Change.org petition by Mbothoma Maduna, the former Mayor of Setsoto Local Municipality at the time of Tsolo’s appointment as project manager, calling for Mr Tsolo’s release.

In August 2022 DIRCO sent another delegation to the UAE with a mandate to negotiate the return of its citizens. This attempt failed. In September 2022, in a further attempt, Mr Tsolo’s family and friends arranged to submit the same Change.org petition to the UAE Embassy in Pretoria, but were met with hostility and contempt on arrival at the UAE embassy.

The complaint, signed by Prof Frans Viljoen, Director of the Centre for Human Rights, argues that the UAE's actions constitute a consistent pattern of severe human rights violations and arbitrary detention of Mr Tsolo and Mr Kambule. The complaint argues that there is no legal basis for preventing them from leaving the UAE and that their detention has not adhered to the principles of a fair trial.

The Centre asserts that a joint and purposive application of article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, General Comment 35 of the Human Rights Committee, and the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the analogous cases of Guzzardi v Italy and Amuur v France support the argument that the travel bans and passport confiscation imposed on Mr Tsolo and Mr Kambule amount to arbitrary detention by the UAE.

This detainment is unjustified due to its excessive duration, the absence of legal grounds, and the lack of a fair trial. Moreover, the UAE government’s ongoing detention of the complainants in the absence of lawful reasons for their continued presence in the country breaches international law, including non-derogable guarantees against arbitrary detention. In the complaint, the Centre requests the UNWGAD to recommend that the UAE release the complainants' immigration documents and lift the travel ban, allowing them to return to South Africa.

For more information, please contact:

Centre for Human Rights

Foluso Adegalu
Programme Manager, Litigation & Implementation Unit
Cell: +27728988307
Email: foluso.adegalu@up.ac.za


Lee-Anne Germanos
Senior Campaigner, Change.org
Cell: +27762606103
Email: lgermanos@change.org

Please contact Change.org South Africa for Sello Tsolo and Tjoko Kambule’s details.


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