The UNHCR has called on the government to consider holding platinum mining firm Lonmin - which lost miners among the 34 people shot dead by police on August 16, 2012. File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

Johannesburg - The government has been slammed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for its handling of the Marikana massacre and its decision to defy a high court order that it arrest Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir last year.

It has called on the government to consider holding platinum mining firm Lonmin - which lost miners among the 34 people shot dead by police on August 16, 2012 - liable for the tragedy, while lamenting the failure of the SA Police Service to take responsibility.

The criticism is expressed in a report that calls on South Africa to act consistently with the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, which Pretoria has ratified.

While acknowledging the steps taken by President Jacob Zuma - who appointed the Farlam Commission to investigate the events leading up to the shooting - the UNHRC was not satisfied with the implementation of the commission’s recommendations.

Suspended national police commissioner Riah Phiyega is facing an inquiry into her fitness to hold office following her role in events around the massacre, but none of the police officers who fired the fatal bullets on the day, or their commanders, have faced any criminal liability.

Lonmin officials have also not been charged, although the commission was scathing about them in its report.

The UNHRC said it was concerned about the numerous reports of the excessive use of force by the police in South Africa, but in particular in the Marikana incident.

“The (council) is also concerned about the slow pace of investigation into the Marikana incident, including with respect to the criminal responsibility of members of the South African Police Service and the potential liability of the Lonmin mining company.

“The (government) should ensure that prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigations are launched into all incidents involving the use of firearms and all excessive use of force... and prosecute and punish perpetrators of illegal killings and provide effective remedies for victims.”

Bashir is wanted for trial by the International Criminal Court, which has issued a warrant for his arrest.

The government has filed for leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court against a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling that it was obliged to arrest Bashir when he attended an AU gathering in Sandton, Joburg, last year.

The government’s decision not to arrest Bashir has been slammed by the UNHRC.

“The (UNHRC) notes the ruling of the North Gauteng High Court, which considered the authorities’ failure to detain Omar al-Bashir to be inconsistent with the constitution and expresses concern that President Bashir was authorised to leave the country in violation of an interim court order,” the council notes.

It has also urged the government to take the necessary measures to ensure domestic court orders are complied with.

The concluding observation of the council came after oral and written submissions were made by a high-powered South African delegation, comprising at least one cabinet minister and two deputy ministers, in Geneva, Switzerland, in response to an initial report by the UNHRC.

The delegation was led by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development John Jeffery, who was accompanied by Minister in the Presidency Susan Shabangu and the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Luwellyn Landers.

In response to the issues raised by the UNHRC, Jeffery highlighted the work done by the democratic government over the past 22 years in eradicating the three main pillars in the legacy of apartheid - inequality, unemployment and poverty.

“We have made significant progress in the attainment and enjoyments of human rights in our country. These include not only civil and political rights, but also socio-economic rights.

“This does not mean that our country is perfect - no country is. But we have managed, within two short decades, to make significant strides in reversing the effects of centuries of colonialisation, apartheid and discrimination,” said Jeffery.

The government said at the time it was committed to the protection of human rights, but the report has called this commitment into question.

This includes issues that arose during the first administration of democratic South Africa, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the implementation of its recommendations.

“The (government) should increase its efforts to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate cases of serious human rights violations documented by the TRC.”

Sunday Independent