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HRC51: Civil society calls for accountability for the killings of human rights defenders in South Africa

During HRC51 General Debate Item 8, ISHR, Abahlali baseMjondolo, delivered a joint statement supported by 47 organisations, denouncing the killings of human rights defenders in South Africa, particularly those working to defend land, housing and environmental rights, as well as anti-corruption activists.

On 3 October 2022, during the General Debate under Item 8 of the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council, the Abahlali baseMjondolo, as well as 48 organisations from around the world, including ISHR, denounced the killings of human rights defenders in South Africa, particularly those working to defend land, housing and environmental rights, as well as activists fighting corruption.

Since 2009, twenty-four leaders of the democratic grassroots Abahlali baseMjondolo movement have been killed in South Africa. The movement of over 115,000 members across South Africa was formed in 2005 to struggle for a just and equal society based on respect and dignity for all people. Most of the members live in appalling conditions in shacks. The movement organises for access to land and decent housing, to build women’s power from below, and against xenophobia – objectives that strongly align with key commitments set out in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. 

Speaking on behalf of the movement, Mqapheli Bonono, the Deputy President of Abahlali said: “Since our movement was formed we have faced severe repression including slander, assault, arrest, violent and unlawful evictions, false imprisonment, torture and killings. The situation has been particularly dire in the city of Durban”. 

He added “So far this year we have lost four comrades. One was murdered by masked police officers and three were murdered by assassins. There has been no justice for […] twenty-two comrades that we have lost to the politics of blood.” There are only two cases in which the perpetrators of these killings have been brought to justice. A police officer was imprisoned for twelve years for the murder of Nqobile Nzuzua in 2013. In 2014, two local politicians were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Thuli Ndlovu. 

The organisations urged: 

  • The United Nations Human Rights Council to take a stand against the ongoing murder of human rights defenders
  • South Africa to urgently establish a national commission of inquiry into these murders to ensure justice for all victims of political killings in South Africa.

South Africa is seeking election to the Human Rights Council. It must fulfil its obligations as enshrined in the Constitution and under international conventions to the highest standards.

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