15.11,.2011 Andries Nel South African Deputy Minister of Justice and Elizabeth Masire of SADC at the SADEC-UNODC Conference on drugs and crime held at O.R. Tambo Building Pretoria. Picture: Etienne Creux

Geneva – South Africa on Thursday presented its second report on its general human rights record to the UN, generally getting high marks from its peers for its progress in the rights of its people, but with a number of concerns raised.

Some nations raised questions about potential freedom of speech impediments in the Protection of State Information Bill still before Parliament. Many raised concerns about the high prevalence of rape and violence against women and children and some about the high crime rate in general.

SA presented its report under the “Uinversal Periodic Review” process at the UN Human Rights Council where all member countries are subjected to regular scrutiny by other states to monitor whether or not they are living up to the human rights standards they profess.

Other countries also recommended that SA make greater efforts to train police in handling violence against women and children..

Many countries also raised concerns about the need for more measures to combat violence against women and children and against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, whilst welcoming South Africa’s progressive legislation concerning LGBT people.

Deputy Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Andries Nel presented South Africa’s report, and expressed appreciation for the “constructive engagement” from other members in the council.

“The first important thing to point out is that this is not a media bill, it is a protection of state information bill,” said Nel about the controversial legislation, explaining it was doing away with apartheid-era law. “In any case South Africa has its Constitutional Court which is the final arbiter of any legislation,” he added.

A number of countries including Costa Rica, the Czech Republic also recommended South Africa sign and implement protocols against torture.

“With regard to the question of torture, South African cabinet has recently approved a bill regarding outlawing of torture,” said Nel, adding that it should be in place before Parliament in the near future.

Sweden and the Czech Republic called for a review of the present state information bill while, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and the US raised serious concerns about the implications of the bill for freedom of speech. Germany called for the “abrogation” of the bill.

“We are concerned the bill would have a considerable dampening affect on the freedom of the press,” said the US delegation.

But high praise came from SA's big ally in the BRICS bloc, China, which however also recommended that SA strengthen its efforts to combat HIV and Aids.

Australia expressed concerned about xenophobic violence along with Djibouti which called for more dialogue on this.

Canada raised concerns about allegations of sexual violence by South African peacekeepers in African countries.

Under the UPR process non-governmental organisations are also permitted to submit reports to the UN Commissioner for Human Rights.

And so the NGO Human Rights Watch said in its report to the Human Rights Council, “South Africa continues to grapple with corruption, growing social and economic inequalities, and the weakening of state institutions by partisan appointments and one-party dominance.

“In November 2011, South Africa’s parliament voted to pass a controversial Protection of State Information Bill despite calls from civil society, media and the opposition to hold the vote for further consultation.

“In April 2011, images of the public brutal murder of Andries Tatane by the police force during a peaceful protest in Ficksburg to demand better service delivery raised grave concern regarding police violence.

“Whilst these are some examples of legitimate concerns about the protection of human rights in South Africa, South Africa’s human rights institutions, such as the Human Rights Commission, have the potential to positively advance human rights protection,” said Human Rights Watch. - Independent Foreign Service