UN Member States must hold South Africa accountable for the escalating crackdown on human rights defenders

Statement at the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council 

Item 6 General Debate

Delivered by Mqapheli Bonono, Abahlali baseMjondolo

Mr. President,

This Council recognises that civil society is a critical component of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

As we look forward to South Africa’s UPR in November, we cannot be silent on the killing of human rights defenders, particularly those working to defend land, housing and environmental rights, as well as corruption activists.

I address you today with all the pain I carry from South Africa as the Deputy President of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a social movement of shack dwellers fighting for the right to housing, land, and dignity of the poor.

It is my colleague, Lindokuhle Mnguni, the chairperson of the eKhenana Commune, who should be addressing you. Last month, Lindokuhle was gunned down for fighting for land and equality in South Africa. He was 28 years old. In the last six months, our movement has had to bury four of our members murdered by the police and suspected members of the ruling party.[1]

Since 2009, 24 members of Abahlali baseMjondolo were killed with only two convictions secured. I was arbitrarily detained for 20 days on fabricated charges. Land and housing defenders are increasingly at risk in South Africa.

The South Africa UPR is an opportunity for the country to address these violations, including the root causes leading to the killings of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) with impunity.

We call on States to submit strong recommendations for South Africa to address historically unresolved issues of land, security of tenure and adequate housing; to adopt legislation that ensures the protection and promotion of HRDs and to allow Special Rapporteurs on housing and HRDs to visit the country.

South Africa is contesting membership to the Human Rights Council. It must fulfill to the highest standards its obligations as enshrined in the Constitution and under International conventions.

Thank you.

[1] For more information, see letter endorsed by more than 100 civil society organisations

Civic space in South Africa is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor