Deputy Minister Luwellyn Landers, South African Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation at the High-Level Segment of the 40th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland

25 February 2019

Mr President,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers present,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen

Permit me to begin by congratulating Ms Michelle Bachelet on assuming the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights. I bring you greetings from the people of South Africa. I also wish to acknowledge the important statements made by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. António Guterres and the President of the GA Ms. Maria Fernanda Espinosa.

I would also like to thank Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat the Chair of the African Union Commission for his statement this morning.  We appreciate the emphasis he placed on the delicate dynamics that arise in societies in transition as it relates to issues pertaining to peace-building,  justice, impunity.

Further, I wish to congratulate the President and members of the Bureau of this Council on your election. I would like to wish you every success during your tenure and assure you of our full support.

Mr President,

The South African government guided by the values of our constitution has over the last 25 years, built a diplomatic practice that is reflective of a government and a people committed to building peace, human security and equality within and between countries.  The principles of our constitution were guided by a commitment to build a society that transcends a history of discrimination and violence based on race, sex, gender, religion, origin and sexual orientation. Our constitutional principles also reflect the need to undo the legacy of systemic social and economic exclusion of the majority of South Africans.

The South African constitution therefore enjoins us as a government to have state practice and indeed a diplomatic stance that seeks to promote, respect and fulfil all human rights at home and abroad. 

Mr. President,

I emphasize ALL human rights, as the South African constitution embraces economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights as equal, indivisible and interdependent.  We believe that without access to human rights, holistic people-centered development is not possible and also, if people are economically excluded then they are not in a position to enjoy their civil and political rights. 

This approach to human rights is coupled with a principled belief that peace and dialogue and NOT, recourse to violence are the best ways to resolve conflicts and build the peaceful societies as envisioned in Agenda 2030 and Africa’s Agenda 2060.  

Mr. President,

Given this background, it is therefore common cause that the government of South Africa believes that the Human Rights Council is one of the most important and effective institutions of the United Nations. We applaud the Council for being responsive to human rights violations. As indicated by the President of the General Assembly, Madame Maria Fernanda Espinosa this morning, we too value the link between the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. Our history of struggle against human rights abuses under the apartheid government was strengthened by the work of the General Assembly when other United Nations bodies were less decisive.

The Human Rights Council plays an important role in advancing ALL human rights including the right to development, which is in line with our own values.  We are therefore cautious of premature reforms that may distort the importance and scope of the Human Rights Council.

Mr President,

South Africa will continue to work towards the strengthening and deepening of the multilateral system of global governance and a rules-based international order. Our abiding faith in the UN and the multilateral system of global governance is unwavering, despite increasing unilateralism and the growth of populist and ultra-nationalist forces in the world. We welcome the timely commitment by the UN Secretary-General to develop a UN-wide Global Plan of Action against hate speech and hate crimes.

South Africa remains committed to the peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict and realisation of full rights for Palestinian people. Their inalienable right to self-determination must not be forgotten and their plight should remain our apex priority. We also remain steadfast in our support for the people of Western Sahara, whose suffering under the yoke of foreign occupation continues. The Saharawi people should attain their right to self-determination in our lifetime. 

Mr President,

South Africa is also seized with addressing contemporary challenges within the realm of human rights. States cannot be the only duty bearers in this regard. Multinational corporations and International Organisations are powerful institutions of global governance and must therefore be held accountable under international human rights law wherever they operate. 

It is in this context, that I wish to raise an issue of particular importance to our country.  Women and girls face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination in sport and are subjected to discriminatory laws and practices based on their race and gender. This is a matter that affects women in the developing world more acutely, reinforcing the intersectionality between race and gender that pervades these human rights abuses, and that requires the attention of this Council.

Mr President,

On 8 May this year, South Africa will hold its sixth national elections since our first democratic elections in 1994. The Government and people of South Africa wish to thank the entire membership of this Council for supporting and fully participating in the one-day commemorative event that took place in April 2018 in honour of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late Nelson Mandela, who personified human rights and the struggle for justice and equality for all. We wish to further thank the international community for joining us in marking centenary activities for our late struggle icon, Mama Albertina Sisulu. 

I conclude by reiterating our support for the work of this Council and the Office of the High Commissioner. We continue to believe that this Council will be judged by the extent to which it makes an impact on the lives of billions of people in the world. South Africa will not be found lacking in its contribution.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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