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HRC 52: Organisations urge South Africa to establish a national Commission of Inquiry into the killings of defenders

During the adoption of the South Africa UPR outcomes, organisations urged South Africa to establish a national commission of inquiry into the killings of human rights defenders and activists.

South Africa adopted many recommendations with regards to the protection of human rights defenders following its Universal Periodic Review (UPR). It also accepted the recommendation to invite the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders to visit the country and a recommendation to establish a commission of inquiry into the killing of human rights defenders and activists.

Eight organisations, including ISHR, [1] urged South Africa to urgently establish this national commission of inquiry. The statement stressed the alarming situation faced by defenders in South Africa, particularly those working to defend land and environmental rights. In the context of near complete impunity for the killing of defenders, Mam’ Fikile, who was at the forefront of challenging unlawful expansion of a coal mine in her community, was killed on 22 October 2020, with no one being held accountable for her murder.

During the adoption of the South Africa UPR, Laura Rwambiwa delivered a joint statement with ISHR. Read the statement and watch the video below:

Mr. President,

This is a joint statement.

On 22 October 2020, mam’ Fikile Ntshangase, who was 63 years old, was preparing dinner for her family when two gunmen invaded her home, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, ending her life with six bullets. She used to say: ‘I cannot sell out my people. And if need be, I will die for my people’.

Mam’ Fikile, was at the forefront of challenging the unlawful expansion of a coal mine in her community, which threatens the eviction of more than 18 families. She was murdered in front of her grandson, Buyile, who was only 13 years old at the time.

No one has been held accountable for her murder. In this context of impunity, her community continues to live in fear, wondering who is next. Weeks before Mam’ Fikile was killed, she knew that her life was in danger and reported the matter to the police. This was in vain as no steps were taken to guarantee her protection.

The situation of human rights defenders in South Africa, particularly those working to defend land and environmental rights, is alarming. In rural areas, where defenders fight against abuses by powerful corporations, including in the mining sector, defenders are increasingly at risk with the government failing to guarantee them any protection.

We welcome South Africa’s adoption of recommendations to take effective measures to ensure accountability, including the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the killings of human rights defenders and activists and inviting the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders to visit the country. The time to implement these recommendations is now.

Thank you.

[1] The International Service for Human Rights, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, West African Human Rights Defenders Network, DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Southern Africa Women Human Rights Defenders Network, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, CIVICUS.

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