Amnesty International South Africa’s work this last quarter has been all about justice and accountability, whether at a domestic level or international level. What has been clear on both fronts is that a lot of work still needs to be done.
South Africa made international news when it was considering allowing Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the BRICS Summit, which was held in Johannesburg, despite the International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant against him. This was a moment for Amnesty International South Africa to put into practice strategic litigation.
On 18 July, we were admitted as an amicus curiae, friend of the court, in an urgent application for a declaratory order that if President Putin attended the BRICS Summit the authorities were obliged to arrest him. You can read more about this case in this issue of Lesedi. The outcome was definitely a win for justice and accountability, and this litigation effort showed the strength of our movement. It relied on a number of our internal experts and was supported by a team of pro bono external lawyers from Werksmans Attorneys. Our successful admission as an amicus curiae in this case was made possible because of our technical expertise on the Rome Statute – including its local and international implementation – the organisation’s own research and reports into the situation in Ukraine, our litigation expertise and generally our strength as a global, regional, and national highly skilled movement to harness the information and skills needed to bring this action. Despite being under severe time constraints, the interdisciplinary team led by Amnesty’s Litigation Unit enabled us to rally and ensured that we met the deadlines as required. This was a true testament of the power of our movement and shows what can be done when harnessing all our resources, from local to regional to global, to strengthen how Amnesty utilises strategic litigation as a vehicle for change.
Despite President Putin not coming to South Africa for the BRICS Summit, our activists along with partners, still took the opportunity to demonstrate on the sidelines of the meeting and call on world leaders to uphold human rights by demanding that Russian authorities stop the act of aggression against Ukraine and end attacks on civilians. We also called on the Russian authorities to stop violating people’s right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression in their own country. We received a lot of media attention around this, with the team having participated in 17 interviews with domestic and international media organisations.
As Amnesty International South Africa we have also continued our work on the protection of whistleblowers. Since the release of the state capture report and the brutal murder of Babita Deokaran, we have been vocal about a need for strengthening of whistleblower protection in the country and we are happy that the government has taken the first steps towards this by calling for public submissions on its proposed changes to legislation. You can read about Amnesty’s submission on the proposed reforms in this edition of Lesedi.
On the subject of accountability, the country commemorated 11 years since the Marikana massacre. Unfortunately, a culture of impunity has been allowed to continue with no one being held accountable for the brutal loss of 34 lives. The lack of accountability for victims and their families is a recurring theme in South Africa. We raised the same issue on Women’s Day where we said urgent measures need to be put in place to ensure that there is accountability for the failure of the South African Police Service to effectively and thoroughly investigate cases of sexual and gender-based violence.
There is an overall lack of accountability and very few people are getting the justice they deserve. This is why we all need to continue to fight for justice and accountability, on all fronts.
As Martin Luther King Jr said:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
A VICTORY FOR INTERNATIONAL LAW AND JUSTICE
By Genevieve Quintal, Amnesty International South Africa Media & Communications Officer
In July, Amnesty International South Africa took the decision to apply to be an amicus curiae, which is a friend of the court, in an application for a declaratory order that if Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the BRICS Summit in South Africa, held in August, the South African authorities were obliged to arrest him.
This was after news that Putin intended on travelling to South Africa despite the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant against him.
On 17 March 2023, the ICC issued warrants of arrest for President Putin and the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the president’s office, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, for war crimes allegedly committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine. As a member state of the ICC, South Africa had a duty to arrest President Putin if he entered South African territory. South Africa signed the Rome Statute on 17 July 1998 and ratified it on 27 November 2000. In 2002, South Africa adopted the Implementation Act which provided a framework for the implementation of the Rome Statute in the country. Pursuant to Article 86 of the Rome Statute, State parties have an obligation to cooperate with the ICC in arresting and surrendering accused persons to the Court if such persons are within their territory.
This was why as a legal organisation, we could not stand back and allow international law to be ignored. Although the court application was brought by a political party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), we joined the application as an independent and impartial friend of the court to assist the court on matters of international justice, human rights violations, and accountability of state actors. An amicus curiae is not affiliated with any of the parties to the litigation. It typically joins proceedings to assist the court because of its expertise or interest in the matter before the court.
We believed it was important to assist the court as a human rights organisation which supports mechanisms of international justice, such as the ICC, which seeks to deliver justice, truth, and reparation to victims of crimes under international law. Amnesty International has significant experience as an intervenor before domestic and international courts, including the European Court of Human Rights, the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the ICC. In addition, Amnesty International has long-standing expertise in litigation that raises complex questions of public international law, and questions of immunity in particular. We therefore believed that we were able to help the court come to a decision in this matter by making submissions on substantive international law and South Africa’s international law obligations. We also drew on our organisation’s own research and reports into the situation in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion.
Before the matter could be heard in court, the presidency announced that President Putin would no longer attend the BRICS Summit, this was decided by “mutual agreement”, and that Russia would be represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. This announcement was unsurprising given South Africa’s firm obligation to arrest and surrender him to the ICC, but it was also a victory for international law and justice and a clear message that those who commit human rights violations will be, and should be held accountable, no matter who they are.
At the time, there were questions around why South Africa should implement ICC warrants of arrest when other countries refuse to. There has been the issue of double standards shown by the court, and we have previously said that double standards have no place in international justice and institutions like the ICC need to be held accountable as well. Amnesty International has highlighted several recent decisions and practices by the ICC which appear to beg the question of whether its principles applied equally to victims of crimes under international law in any situation or region. We also argue that South Africa was instrumental in building consensus for the creation of the ICC, more than 20 years ago, to bring an end to impunity for crimes under international law such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It has been at the forefront of international justice and should continue to lead, even when others refuse to.
Respect for the sanctity of human life, condemnation and rejection of impunity is one of the key objectives and key organising principles of the Constitutive Act of the African Union, to which South Africa is also a party.South Africa remains a crucially important ICC member state, and it should be at the vanguard of attempts to prevent crimes under international law, prosecute suspected perpetrators and combat impunity. International mechanisms such as the ICC are essential for justice, truth, full reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence for victims and survivors of serious crimes everywhere.
Amnesty International has been working to document war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. All of Amnesty International’s outputs published to date can be found here.
When will human rights take centre stage in global politics?
By Marike Keller, Researcher at Amnesty International South Africa
The arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for President Valdimir Putin heavily dominated conversations around BRICS in the months leading up to the summit, which was held in Johannesburg. Given the South African government’s “non-aligned” position on Russia’s war against Ukraine, its failure to arrest former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir in 2015, and its past attempt to leave the ICC, civil society focused their attention on ensuring the government adhered to its international legal obligations. This was critical. What it meant was that other issues received little to no attention, including the human rights track record of current and future members.
The current members – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – have consistently poor human rights records, yet this does not take centre stage in discussions nor decisions taken, despite their “commitment to inclusive multilateralism and upholding international law, including the purposes and principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter”.
The summit this year saw the future expansion of BRICS, with six new countries added to the alliance from 2024. These are Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Iran, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. With human rights of little concern for current members, it is not surprising that the human rights track record of new members was also not taken into consideration when extending invitations to join the bloc.
Last year, in the lead-up to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), authorities in Egypt released 895 prisoners held for political reasons but arrested nearly triple that number, including hundreds linked to calls for protests during the conference. Death sentences also continue to be handed down after grossly unfair trials and executions carried out.
In Ethiopia, the federal government continues to impose restrictions on humanitarian aid to Tigray. Government security forces and armed groups have also been responsible for the unlawful killings of civilians, which in some cases may have amounted to war crimes with promises to investigate these crimes remaining unfulfilled. Multiple incidents of conflict-related rape and other sexual violence were committed by Tigrayan forces in the Afar region.
Argentina has a history of impunity for gender-based violence with many femicides and attacks against LGBTI people going unpunished. Abortion remains difficult to access in many parts of the country, despite its recent decriminalisation. Investigations into several key cases of disappearances and deaths in police custody have also not progressed and officials have not taken measures to improve the integration of refugees and asylum seekers.
Security forces have unlawfully fired live ammunition and metal pellets to crush protests, killing hundreds of men, women and children and injuring thousands. Thousands of people are arbitrarily detained and/or unfairly prosecuted solely for peacefully exercising their human rights. Women, LGBTI people, and ethnic and religious minorities suffer intensified discrimination and violence. Enforced disappearances, torture, and other ill-treatment, including through the deliberate denial of medical care, are widespread and systematic.
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates put into effect new laws that significantly curtail freedom of expression and assembly. The authorities extended the arbitrary detention of tens of mass trial victims past the end of their prison terms and subjected one human rights defender and one dissident to extended ill-treatment. The government has also renewed its stance against recognising the rights of refugees.
The authorities have targeted individuals for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. The Specialised Criminal Court has tried and sentenced to lengthy prison terms individuals following grossly unfair trials for their peaceful expression or association, or for forming community organisations. Human rights defenders have been harassed in prison and faced arbitrary travel bans following their conditional release from prison. Courts resorted to the death penalty following grossly unfair trials, including in cases of individuals who were children at the time of the alleged crime, and people were executed for a wide range of crimes.
Following the BRICS summit and the decision to expand the bloc, President Cyril Ramaphosa was asked during a question and answer session in Parliament, how as a country South Africa could stand with “autocrats and dictators while sacrificing the principles enshrined in our own Constitution”. In response to this, President Ramaphosa said South Africa did not intend to make enemies of any country, and that South Africa wielded significant influence around the world, and it was not shy to articulate the importance of human rights.
Unfortunately, however this does not seem to be the case. There is a lack of accountability driving the continued existence of these trends, and South Africa is not consistently holding those who violate human rights to account. As Amnesty International South Africa (AISA), we call on countries like South Africa, which pride themselves on a strong Constitution and adherence to human rights, to not keep quiet when it comes to human rights violations, and call out any country, no matter their relationship. It is time for human rights to take centre stage in global politics, and as AISA we will continue to ensure that human rights are not drowned out.
End the invasion of Ukraine & the crackdown on Russian anti-war protesters
Amnesty International South Africa in partnership with the Ukrainian Association of South Africa and the Helen Suzman Foundation demonstrated on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit, held in Johannesburg in August, calling for an end to the invasion of Ukraine and for the crackdown of anti-war protesters in Russia to stop.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter and an act of aggression that is a crime under international law.
The Russian government is not only violating international humanitarian and human rights law in its war of aggression against Ukraine, but its crackdown on people in Russia who are speaking out about the invasion goes against the rights to freedom of expression and assembly which South Africa and its Constitution prides itself on.
We called on world leaders attending the BRICS summit to uphold human rights by demanding that Russian authorities stop the act of aggression against Ukraine and end attacks on civilians now. We also called on the Russian authorities to stop violating people’s right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression in their own countries.
The BRICS Leaders’ Summit is convened annually with discussions focusing on political and socio-economic coordination.
The first BRIC Summit took place in Russia in June 2009. In December 2010, South Africa was invited to join the group and the acronym was changed to BRICS.
The 2023 Summit was held in Johannesburg from 22 August to 24 August.
Here is why the summit was important:
It’s time to talk about YES, and talk about it we shall!
By Kyara Plasket-Govendar, Amnesty International South Africa Social Media Graphic Designer
If you were asked “how much of your body do you think you own?”, what would you say? Your initial reaction might be to say that your whole body belongs to you – why wouldn’t it? No matter what your answer is, the reality for women paints a grim picture. Women’s bodies are constantly violated and appropriated, used and discarded as if they hold no worth. This is all done with the notion of consent blatantly being dismissed.
‘Body sovereignty’ – to have complete control over your body. This is a feeling women across the globe are robbed of on a daily basis. Sadly, in South Africa, women’s bodies have been taken over. A culture of rape and fear rules over women’s bodies like a dark cloud hanging over them wherever they move. Nowhere is safe. Whether it’s being catcalled, touched inappropriately, or the extremes of being raped and/or killed, violence against women knows no limits and is a senile stain contaminating culture and demolishing freedom. This has left people living in South Africa accustomed to a life of worry and horror. This trickles into sexual relationships, too.
We often think of romance and sex as something linear. We are bombarded with TV shows and movies that portray sex as a quick, passionate montage of two people ripping each other’s clothes off, no conversation, and immediately knowing what the other person wants. While this wildly unrealistic version of sex may seem fun to some, it perpetuates a narrative that consent isn’t required. We think that physical contact should always be welcomed, and if it’s not then it’s the duty of the receiver to make it known – ‘just say no’. We are taught that if you receive unwanted physical attention, you scream and run but that’s not how it plays out in real life.
Consent, such an essential and simple concept, is so often left out of the narrative that shapes our views and understanding of sex. Maybe attaching consent to sex makes it uncomfortable, but this is exactly what is needed to disrupt people’s understanding. It is not an obstacle or chore in a relationship, but is actually an opportunity to communicate and connect with a partner. However, in a country where sexual violence is so unacceptably widespread, there has never been a bigger need to talk about consent. It’s bigger than just saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but about being empowered with the understanding of consent andt knowing your rights and claiming them.
But what does consent look like? How do we give and receive consent? What does the law say about consent? Amnesty International South Africa has developed a free online course, ‘Let’s Talk About Yes’! which deals with these issues around consent. By educating and empowering ourselves, our peers and future generations about consent and sex, shifting the culture is possible and achievable. The fact is, your body does belong to you. Know your rights and REclaim them. It’s time to talk about YES, and talk about it we shall.
SOUTH AFRICA, IT’S TIME TO TALK ABOUT CONSENT!
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL SOUTH AFRICA HAS LAUNCHED A COURSE ABOUT CONSENT TO HELP START OR ENGAGE IN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT SEXUAL CONSENT AND CONTRIBUTE TO A CULTURAL SHIFT WHERE POSITIVE, ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT IS THE NORM.
IT AIMS TO DEMYSTIFY THE ISSUES AROUND SEXUAL CONSENT AND UNPACK WHY IT CAN BE DIFFICULT, AWKWARD, EMBARRASSING, SHAMEFUL AND CONFUSING TO TALK AND THINK ABOUT SEX AND CONSENT.
SEXUAL ABUSE IS A HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUE THAT AFFECTS PEOPLE REGARDLESS OF THEIR AGE, SEX, GENDER, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, RACE OR GENDER IDENTITY. HOWEVER, THIS COURSE FOCUSES ON WOMEN AND GIRLS, AS THEY ARE DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECTED BY THIS VIOLATION.
Amnesty International South Africa has also designed a toolkit which provides valuable activities and accurate information to those looking to understand the link between consent and human rights. This toolkit will empower you with the knowledge and tools you seek in order to facilitate meaningful conversations about consent in a safe, effective and legal manner.
This toolkit will work best in a workshop setting.
Download the toolkit here
One step closer to proper protection for whistleblowers
By Genevieve Quintal, Amnesty International South Africa media and communications officer
In the wake of the state capture inquiry and the murder of Babita Deokaran, the Chief Director of Financial Accounting at the Gauteng Department of Health in 2021, the need to strengthen whistleblower protection in South Africa has become urgent.
Whistleblowers often face a number of human rights violations, including the right to security, the right of freedom of expression, and the right to life. They may also face disciplinary action at work, harassment, and punitive litigation by employers, thereby preventing them from enjoying their right to a livelihood and other rights at work. All of these rights are enshrined in the Constitution, and in international human rights law binding on South Africa.
While South Africa has taken legislative steps towards protecting whistleblowers beyond the Protected Disclosures Act (PDA), gaps in the legislative framework and the practical
implementation of these mechanisms were exposed after Babita Deokaran’s murder.
The state is obliged to provide whistleblowers with protection. Whistleblowers are critical to any democracy because they are a warning sign that lets us know as society, as authorities, that something is going wrong. They expose acts of criminality and abuse by governments, corporations, organisations and individuals. Without whistleblowers, evidence of large-scale human rights violations would never surface.
In June this year, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, invited interested parties to submit written comments on the discussion document on proposed reforms for the whistleblower protection regime in South Africa.
Amnesty International South Africa made a submission on the discussion document.
As an organisation we have been raising concerns that whistleblowers in South Africa are not sufficiently protected, finding themselves usually at risk simply for disclosing wrongdoing in the public interest, and are either threatened, harassed, forced into hiding or to flee the country, and sometimes even killed. For too long, whistleblowers have been treated with disdain.
While the call for submissions by the department is not yet an actual change in legislation, which would ensure proper protection for those who speak out, this is the first step in the right direction, and must culminate in a strengthening of legislation in the country.
LACK OF MARIKANA PROSECUTIONS POINTS TO CONTINUED CULTURE OF IMPUNITY
It has been more than a decade after the Marikana massacre claimed the lives of miners in the North West mining town, and yet a culture of impunity has been allowed to continue, with no one being held accountable for the loss of life, Amnesty International South Africa said on the 11th anniversary of the shooting.
“The lack of accountability for victims and their families is a recurring theme in South Africa. We need to demand answers as to why it is taking 11 years in the case of the Marikana massacre for there to be any prosecutions, and ultimately accountability for the brutal loss of life.
Amnesty International South Africa Executive Director Shenilla Mohamed said.
On 16 August 2012, 34 miners were killed and more than 70 wounded near the mine in Marikana, when police used live ammunition to disperse a group of striking protesters.
As such these actions were unlawful under South African domestic law obliging police officers to act within a framework of minimum force, and under international law and standards, in particular the obligation to respect and protect life. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms allows for the use of firearms only in defence against imminent threat of death or serious injury and only when less extreme methods are insufficient.
While some officers are facing charges for the events that took place before 16 August 2012, no police officer has been charged for the killing of 34 mine workers on that fateful day.
Amnesty International South Africa wrote to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in the North West asking for answers as to why there have been no prosecutions, 11 years after the massacre.
The IPID, told Amnesty International South Africa that in relation to the shooting on 16 August at what is known as Scene 1 and 2, the role of every single member of the police that was deployed in Marikana on the date in question was being investigated. IPID said these were more or less 600 police officers. It said the cases had now been transferred to the North West Director of Public Prosecutions for further handling.
The NPA has not responded to Amnesty International South Africa’s questions as to why no one had been prosecuted to date.
The IPID tried to justify the delay in justice, by saying that the Farlam commission of inquiry into the shooting, started in 2012, and that all Marikana investigations were ordered to stop, and only resumed in 2016 when IPID investigators met with a team of experienced advocates appointed by the National Director of Public Prosecutions to lead the investigations.
“We made it clear to IPID and the NPA that waiting 11 years for accountability was unacceptable. The excuse that investigations were stopped until 2016, is also not a good enough excuse, it still means that there have been seven years with no prosecutions and no accountability,” Shenilla Mohamed said.
“The victims and their families cannot be made to wait another year, nevermind another 11 years for justice. This will just result in the continued lack of accountability for the unlawful killings by police.”
SOUTH AFRICA: CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS CONDEMN GAUTENG HEALTH FACILITIES’ DEFIANCE OF LAWS AND RECENT COURT ORDER ON FREE ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE FOR PREGNANT WOMEN
In April 2023, the Gauteng High Court upheld the right of all pregnant and lactating women, and children under 6, irrespective of nationality and documentation status, to access free health services at all public health establishments, including hospitals. This ruling followed an application brought by SECTION27 alongside women who had been denied access to such services. The application was supported by various amici curiae. The ruling reaffirms the rights set out in the Constitution, the National Health Act, and the Refugees Act.
Since the ruling, the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition (SRJC) and other civil society organisations have received reports of various public health facilities (administrators and individual clinicians) demanding that pregnant migrant women pay to access services.
Read more here.
SOUTH AFRICA: URGENT MEASURES NEEDED TO HOLD SAPS ACCOUNTABLE FOR DENYING GBV VICTIMS AND THEIR FAMILIES JUSTICE
Urgent measures need to be put in place to ensure that there is accountability for the failure of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to effectively and thoroughly investigate cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), Amnesty International South Africa said on Women’s Day.
“Despite an extensive and progressive legal landscape, rates of SGBV remain staggeringly high,” Amnesty International South Africa Executive Director Shenilla Mohamed said.
“While gendered power inequality, and pervasive harmful patriarchal social norms, attitudes and beliefs are some of the contributing factors that drive and enable SGBV, one of the biggest problems is the broken criminal justice system. It is because of this failing system, and more importantly the shoddy investigative work, that there is no deterrent for perpetrators, because they are unlikely to find themselves in court and facing time in prison,” she said.
Read more here.
SOUTH AFRICA: STATEMENT ON THE DEVASTATING FIRE AT 80 ALBERT STREET FIRE, MARSHALLTOWN
The Collective Voices for Health Access coalition expresses its deep sadness on the 80 Albert Street fire tragedy that occurred in the early hours of 31 August 2023. The fire claimed at least 77 lives and 88 were left with injuries. Many survivors find themselves without shelter and in many circumstances, without any of their possessions or documents.
Alongside our distress at this tragedy, we are disturbed by the immediate responses to the fire by City officials who have sought to assign blame rather than reflecting on the tragedy itself. Blame has been directed at NGOs who have worked over many years to ensure the dignity of people, both from South Africa and elsewhere, living in buildings like 80 Albert Street. The victims themselves have also been blamed – for being poor, for being non-nationals, and for seeking shelter in so-called “hijacked” buildings.
These attempts by opportunistic politicians and government officials serve to divert attention from the failures of their own departments to deal appropriately and fairly with dangerous unofficially occupied buildings in Johannesburg.
Read more here.
It's concerning that @CityofJoburgZA officials are trying to shift blame for the #JHBFire onto NGOs, who are trying to ensure that people’s human rights are upheld. This is not the time to point fingers, but time to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.— @AmnestySAfrica (@AmnestySAfrica) September 1, 2023
In the third quarter of 2023, Amnesty International South Africa carried out 40 interviews, on various topics.
On 2 July 2023, Amnesty International South Africa Campaigner Sibusiso Khasa spoke to Newzroom Afrika about justice for two young women, Popi Qwabe and Bongeka Phungula were killed six years ago, and their bodies dumped on the side of the road.
Watch the interview here.
On 18 July 2023, Amnesty International South Africa Executive Director Shenilla Mohamed spoke to SABC after the organisation was admitted as a friend of the court, in the Democratic Alliance’s application to compel South African authorities to arrest Russian President, Vladimir Putin, if he attended the BRICS Summit.
Watch the interview here.
On 9 August 2023, Amnesty International South Africa Researcher Marike Keller spoke to eNCA on Women’s Day about how failing systems and shoddy investigative work are to blame for the lack of deterrence for gender-based violence offenders.
Watch the interview here.
On 16 August 2023, Amnesty International South Africa Campaigner Sibusiso Khasa spoke to the SABC on the 11th anniversary of the Marikana massacre. More than a decade later and no one has been held accountable for the loss of life.
Watch the interview here.
On 22 August 2023, Amnesty International South Africa Media and Communications Officer Genevieve Quintal spoke to Newzroom Afrika about the organisation’s demonstration on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit.
Watch the interview here.
On 22 August 2023, Amnesty International South Africa Campaigner Sibusiso Khasa spoke to Eyewitness News at a demonstration on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit calling for an end to the invasion of Ukraine and for the crackdown of anti-war protesters in Russia to stop.
Watch the interview here.
Youth prioritising human rights education with a focus on mental health
By Rejoyce Motaung (née Makhetha), Amnesty International South Africa’s Activism Coordinator: Organising
In a South Africa marked by evolving human rights challenges and complexities, and a government that is slow to take action, the youth in South Africa are increasingly recognising the significance of human rights education initiatives that centre around promoting mental health for their personal wellbeing, and that of their communities. These youth-led human rights initiatives not only equip young minds with valuable knowledge and life skills to take action when their rights are violated but they also foster a more compassionate, inclusive and human rights friendly society.
Taking into consideration the number of initiatives that have incorporated mental health in the last quarter, whether it be gender-based violence, consent, or climate justice, it is evident that there is a link between human rights violations and poor mental health, and young people are putting their well-being first. They understand that the right to health, including mental health, is a fundamental human right and by prioritising human rights education that integrates mental health awareness enables them to better understand and support those grappling with these issues. It also fosters empathy and compassion, breaking down stigmas surrounding mental health. Furthermore, they learn self-care techniques and stress management strategies which are crucial for their own mental health and resilience.
As passionate advocates for change, the youth continue to highlight the intersections between human rights, socio-economic challenges and mental health and have vowed to continue the fight for a better quality of life for all. Through this type of human rights education, the youth are proving that mental health is a critical pillar of social justice. By empowering themselves with knowledge and empathy, they are driving positive change, fostering healthier communities, and shaping a brighter future for all.
AI UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN (UCT)
By Paris Classen, AI UCT Chairperson, 2022/23
On 24 July, we protested against the university and the EFF for allowing Kenyan Professor Patrick Lumumba, an outspoken homophobe, onto our campus for the party’s 10th anniversary lecture. He has been vocal in his support of the anti-queer bills in Uganda and has called homosexuality and transgenderism “unnatural” and “unAfrican”, so we could not allow him to come onto campus without hearing our voices.
The peaceful demonstration began with the queer protesters and allies singing and dancing while the EFF supporters did the same on the other side, each trying to overpower the other. It then became more physical when protesters began getting shoved, run into, berated and cussed at, and having their signs stolen and torn up (notable one being destroyed was one saying “we stand in solidarity with queer Ugandans”) by EFF supporters. A UCT lecturer tried to get students away from the violence and instructed us to form a line to divide the two sides, but that line kept getting shoved and students were manhandled, including our membership and growth officer, Elliot Howard, who nearly had his shoulder dislocated when he was grabbed by an EFF member. They called the white people in the line racist, and said that the people of colour were a disgrace and slaves to the white man.
Eventually, campus security came in, not to protect us, but to keep us away from them so as not to provoke them. We had queer musicians performing, individual testimonies about violence people have faced just for being visibly queer, and the names of people murdered in homophobic and transphobic attacks read out. .
While it was exhausting and maddening to have such violent and pointed homophobia thrown at us for hours, it was worth it to stand up for the LGBTQIA+ community and for the visibility our chapter got, with a Cape Times article coming out featuring a photo of Elliot being held and pushed around by an EFF member. We are of the opinion that he got more harassment by the EFF supporters for being visibly queer, as they seemed to target him throughout the night and harass him verbally and physically in a way the other Amnesty members on site were not. I can personally attest to receiving less harassment, as I was forcefully pushed a few times, but never grabbed or yelled at despite being in the same front line as him.
However it occurred, it was unacceptable, but we are proud to have been there and for having made a stand with members from GenderDynamix, the Triangle Project, Unite Behind, SASCO, and other organisations and individuals passionate about keeping homophobia and transphobia away from our campus, country, and continent.
The UCT Chapter also held two panel discussions this quarter – one on mental health and disabilities and the other on the Palestine-Israel crisis.
AI Wits celebrated Women’s Day with a mural painting.
They called on supporters to leave to handprint on the wall in support and celebration of Women’s Month and also encrouaged messages of empowerment.
AI Wits also held its queer book club and hug-a-tree day.
AI University of PRETORIA (UP)
BRICS Youth Panel Discussion
Amnesty International UP hosted a youth-led panel discussion which focused on South Africa’s involvement in BRICS and assessing the current and future impact on the country and what that would mean for the youth. The panel also looked at the human rights records of the BRICS countries and the impact this has had on people and the youth in particular.
AI UFH held a Human Rights Hikathon in September in East London.
AI DURBAN COMMUNITY CHAPTER
The Amnesty International Durban Human Rights Documentary Award goes to BEYOND UTOPIA.
By Saskia Wustefeld, AI Durban Community Chapter
The 44th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) took place from 20 to 30 July 2023 and every year the Amnesty International Durban Human Rights Award is given to the film which highlights human rights.
This year it was awarded to the documentary, Beyond Utopia, which raises awareness about the long-hidden gross human rights violations in North Korea.
Through masterful storytelling and remarkable directional vision, infra-red cinematography, archived media, and adept use of digital graphics to fill gaps in the storyline, viewers witnessed the unimaginable hardships endured by both young and old, stripped of their most basic human rights embedded in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights under the tyranny of a profoundly repressive regime in North Korea (‘utopia’).
The film’s artistic achievement lies in its intimate portrayal of the heart-wrenching pain, terror, and relief of a family’s daring escape, captured with hidden cameras. The film also explores the parallel narrative of a mother who fled the country years ago and waits anxiously to be reunited with her young son after paying for his planned escape. Tragic consequences unfold, highlighting the risks involved in seeking freedom from such a brutal regime.
AI Vaal and Savanna City put on a show called Ambush theatre which called on everyone to be part of the solution in fighting gender-based violence.
Amnesty International South Africa has decided to change its youth newsletter model.
The newsletter is moving to social media with a fresh new look and a new name.
Check out Pop Off! presented by AISA’s very own Dorothy Ngowi and Kyara Plasket-Govender
AFRICA CLIMATE WEEK
African leaders convened in Nairobi in September for the first ever Africa Climate Summit. This landmark gathering marked a critical juncture for the continent as it is set to provide a unified position on several climate change challenges to be negotiated by African leaders at COP28 in Dubai later this year.
Amnesty International called on leaders to place human rights at the centre of ambitious, bold action.
The organisation said the meetings must push for adequate funding for climate change adaptation, effective remedies for loss and damage, a just energy transition away from fossil fuels, and solutions to address climate-induced migration.
Extreme weather and slow onset crises, such as drought, made more likely and more severe by climate change are harming millions of people across the continent. The World Food Programme estimates that due to the protracted drought, 22 Million people in the Horn of Africa are currently food insecure, with over 5 million children being malnourished. The drought and famine have disproportionately affected women and children and escalated conflicts among pastoralist communities.
“The impact of the climate crisis is all too visible in Africa. People are being displaced and facing unpredictable harvests and food insecurity. Water resources are increasingly stressed. It is staggeringly unjust that those least responsible for the climate crisis and often least equipped to protect themselves continue to bear the heaviest burden,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.
Read more here.
Amnesty International said leaders needed to go beyond carbon markets at the climate summit.
Carbon market systems were created for governments and companies to address their greenhouse gas emissions by funding programmmes or initiatives that reduce or remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Very attractive with governments and high polluter multinational corporations in the Global North, this market-driven approach reinforces the historical and structural inequalities between the Global North and the Global South.
Carbon markets enable wealthy industrialised nations and corporations to maintain carbon-intensive and climate warming practices while transferring their emission reduction duties to projects in Africa. Unsurprisingly, corporate interests appear to have captured the summit’s direction with McKinsey and Anjarwalla & Khanna (ALN Kenya) playing pivotal roles.
Amnesty International’s Irungu Houghton and David Ngira said African leaders still had an opportunity to redeem the Summit by redirecting the Nairobi Declaration.
Read more here.
Ethiopia: Eritrean soldiers committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity after signing of agreement to end hostilities – new report.
Amnesty International released a report on 4 September which found that the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity in the Tigray region, immediately before and after the signing of a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) between Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in November 2022.
The report, “Today or Tomorrow, They Should Be Brought Before Justice” – Rape, Sexual Slavery, Extra-Judicial Executions and Pillage by Eritrean Forces in Tigray, documents how EDF soldiers, allied to the Ethiopian federal government, were responsible for rape and sexual slavery, extra-judicial executions, and pillage. Amnesty International interviewed witnesses, survivors and family members, who testified about the extra-judicial execution of at least 20 civilians, primarily men, by the EDF in Mariam Shewito district between 25 October and 1 November 2022. In addition, a social worker who documented extra-judicial executions in the district provided a list of more than 100 names of people who they said had been extra-judicially executed within this period, although Amnesty International was not able to independently corroborate all these cases remotely. For nearly three months after the signing of the CoHA, EDF soldiers raped and sexually enslaved women, and extra-judicially executed 24 civilians in Kokob Tsibah district.
Read the full statement here.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: INDUSTRIAL MINING OF COBALT AND COPPER FOR RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES IS LEADING TO GRIEVOUS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
The expansion of industrial-scale cobalt and copper mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has led to the forced eviction of entire communities and grievous human rights abuses including sexual assault, arson and beatings.
In a report, Powering Change or Business as Usual?, Amnesty International and the DRC-based organisation Initiative pour la Bonne Gouvernance et les Droits Humains (IBGDH), detail how the scramble by multinational companies to expand mining operations has resulted in communities being forced from their homes and farmland.
“The forced evictions taking place as companies seek to expand industrial-scale copper and cobalt mining projects are wrecking lives and must stop now,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“Amnesty International recognizes the vital function of rechargeable batteries in the energy transition from fossil fuels. But climate justice demands a just transition. Decarbonising the global economy must not lead to further human rights violations.
“The people of the DRC experienced significant exploitation and abuse during the colonial and post-colonial era, and their rights are still being sacrificed as the wealth around them is stripped away.”
Read the full statement here.
Mining companies are rapidly scaling up copper and cobalt mining to meet the rising global demand - this has led to forced evictions of several communities in Kolwezi from their homes and farmlands. @candyofime explains what’s happening in the DRC 👇 pic.twitter.com/WGqEt3bOfc— Amnesty International (@amnesty) September 12, 2023
To combat the climate crisis, the world must move away from fossil fuels and find new sources of energy, while protecting the rights of people in the process.— Amnesty International (@amnesty) September 13, 2023
Demand an end to forced evictions at industrial mines in the DRC: https://t.co/dpVTUvsQiU ✊ pic.twitter.com/pULR3s63kc
Defending the rule of law, enforcing apartheid – the double life of Israel’s judiciary
The Israeli government’s plans for a judicial overhaul continue to face intense opposition. On 12 September 2023, Israel’s Supreme Court (sitting as the High Court of Justice) began hearing petitions against the first piece of overhaul legislation, which was passed by the Israeli Knesset in July. Since the overhaul was first announced at the beginning of 2023, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken part in protests against the plans. Israeli police have in some cases responded with excessive force and have carried out dozens of arbitrary arrests.
The overhaul is designed to erode judicial review and weaken the oversight powers of Israel’s Supreme Court. It has alarming implications for human rights, particularly for Palestinians, as well as other marginalised groups in Israel.
Dangerous though these plans are, the fact remains that Israel’s judiciary has regularly upheld laws, policies and practices which help to maintain and enforce Israel’s system of apartheid against Palestinians – the Supreme Court has signed off on many of the violations that underpin the apartheid system.
Here is a brief guide to what’s happening, why the overhaul could make things even worse – and why, despite its serious flaws, Israel’s judiciary must not be made subordinate to the government.
Global: Cost of G20 inaction on climate and debt crises “potentially catastrophic”
Amnesty International called on world leaders who attended the G20 summit in New Delhi in September to substantially increase international assistance and provide debt relief to vulnerable states to help deliver urgently needed climate justice and avoid a potentially catastrophic failure to safeguard human rights.
Amnesty International called on G20 leaders to deliver on previous climate finance pledges they had so far failed to honour, and to adopt new commitments, including comprehensive relief for countries in debt distress. The debt crisis threatens people’s rights to adequate food, clothing and housing, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the climate crisis poses extreme threats to the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
“The G20 is happening while the world teeters on a knife-edge. The climate crisis is inflicting immense harm on people while at the same time many climate-vulnerable states face a debt crisis. The human rights of billions of people are threatened. The cost of inaction will be catastrophic,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
Read the full statement here.
Global: Heatwaves are worsening air pollution, underscoring the urgent need to phase out fossil fuels
Reacting to a report from the World Meteorological Organisation, which shows that the increased frequency and intensity of heatwaves are significantly lowering air quality worldwide, threatening people’s health and their right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s Climate Advisor, said:
“Climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of heatwaves, and extreme heat, compounded by wildfires and desert dust, is measurably damaging air quality on a vast scale and threatening people’s human right to health and to a healthy environment.
“Climate change and air quality are inextricably linked. The same pollutants that cause climate change harm air quality, endangering human health, damaging ecosystems, lowering agricultural productivity and putting lives at risk on a daily basis.”
Read the full statement here.
Iran: One year after uprising international community must combat impunity for brutal crackdown
The international community must pursue pathways for justice at the international level to address systemic impunity for Iranian officials responsible for hundreds of unlawful killings of protesters and widespread torture, Amnesty International said on 13 September, as Iran marked the one-year anniversary of the “Woman Life Freedom” uprising.
Over the past year, Iranian authorities have committed a litany of crimes under international law to eradicate any challenge to their iron grip on power. These include hundreds of unlawful killings; the arbitrary execution of seven protesters; tens of thousands of arbitrary arrests; widespread torture, including rape of detainees; widespread harassment of victims’ families who call for truth and justice; and reprisals against women and girls who defy discriminatory compulsory veiling laws.
“The Iranian authorities have spent a year inflicting unspeakable cruelty on people in Iran for courageously challenging decades of repression and inequality. One year after Mahsa/Zhina Amini’s death in custody, not one official has been criminally investigated, let alone prosecuted and punished for crimes committed during, and in the aftermath of, the uprising,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Read the full statement here.
One year ago the arrest and death in custody of Mahsa/Zhina Amini sparked the “Woman Life Freedom” uprising against decades of inequality and repression in Iran. We will not stop until Iranian officials are held to account in fair trials. pic.twitter.com/mvYupygEvw— Amnesty International (@amnesty) September 13, 2023
Sri Lanka’s Flawed Plans for a ‘Truth Commission’
Nine international human rights organisations, have grave reservations about the Sri Lankan government’s
proposed National Unity and Reconciliation Commission. The concerns echo many of those already raised byvictims of c onflict-related abuses and their families.
Sri Lanka has a long history of convening similar bodies, none of which has provided justice, truth or reparation to the many people who have engaged with them. The latest initiative risks repeating the mistakes of the past, exposing victims to renewed security threats and re-traumatization without any realistic chance of a different outcome. There have not been any genuine confidence-building measures, or steps to ensure a safe and conducive environment for such a commission to function effectively. There has been no meaningful consultation, including with affected communities. Moreover, as set out in reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council, existing domestic transitional justice mechanisms such as the Office of Missing Persons are unable to function effectively, and there are ongoing attempts to block prosecutions of crimes under international law.
Read the full statement here.
Global: States must safeguard children’s rights from climate change and environmental damage – UN committee
Responding to the authoritative guidance issued by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which has concluded that countries must urgently implement measures to address the damage and threat to children’s rights from climate change and environmental degradation, Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s Climate Advisor, said:
“Children are among those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and environmental damage worldwide, yet they are the least responsible for this global crisis, which is now threatening their rights.
“The UN Committee’s new guidance underscores that children have the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, as well as a right to life, survival and development, the highest attainable standard of health, an adequate standard of living, and education.
“This is a legally significant guidance that lays out the obligation for countries to act under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure the rights of children, including Indigenous children, are protected from environmental degradation and climate change, and that they receive remedies for harms already caused.
Read the full statement here.