|March 3, 2005
Cabinet displeasured with US human rights report
The cabinet has dismissed the US state department's report on South Africa’s human rights record, of which it said it was "presumptuous and dubious" and challenged the US to assess its own human rights record. The US state department's 2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices charged South Africa‘s police service and security forces with human rights violations. It is the second time in little more than a week that government or President Thabo Mbeki has disagreed with the US. The first time was when Mbeki told the Financial Times that the US was wrong to include Zimbabwe in its assessment of dictatorships across the world.
Chief government spokesman Joel Netshitenzhe explained: "The South African government wishes to emphasise that the best judge with regard to the realisation of human rights in our country are the South African people themselves. This they have done and continue to do through the electoral process, the country's legislatures, and institutions set up to promote democracy and the judiciary. Government considers (the report) presumptuous in the extreme for anyone to use a collation of news reports (some of them inaccurate); generalisations alleging rape and torture by the police; ill-informed cultural stereotypes including reference to 'bride prices' (lobola); and other such episodes as a basis for conclusions about 'serious problems' with regard to human rights in our country."
Safety and security minister Charles Nqakula told that human rights were protected in the constitution and that where there was misconduct, it was investigated and prosecuted. He pointed out that a special agency, the Independent Complaints Directorate, had been established to investigate police excesses. According to the minister, the US state department had used information that came from Human Rights Watch and that information had come from the Independent Complaints Directorate itself and "those statistics are now being used completely out of context. We do not do some of the things Americans do." Nqakula said that objections to the country report had been raised. He said the matter would be discussed again at a meeting of all representatives of foreign countries.
Furthermore, Netshitenzhe said that cabinet expressed displeasure at the report. He explained that a consistent trend had appeared where either "deliberately" or through inaccurate information, wrong judgments of South Africa had been reached. These fed into analysis and then became common wisdom, he said.
Cabinet's response follows the Human Rights Commission's defence of South Africa's human rights record. The commission's chairman, Jody Kollapen, said that there were other significant indicators by which to judge a country's human-rights record. "We are doing much better than the US in many respects. We conduct elections better than them and deal with terrorism better than them," he said. Terrorism suspects could not be detained indefinitely without trial in South Africa, for example, Kollapen said. The US embassy in Pretoria has defended the report, saying it was accurate and that the South African and US governments could agree to disagree on its contents.
(Business Day, Johannesburg)