16 Days: Dangers faced by female journalists

During 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, the Legal Resources Centre will be sharing the stories of survivors of gender based violence who fled their countries to seek asylum in South Africa. Many women, children and sexual and gender non-conforming persons endure horrific hardship, sexual persecution, assault, rape and discrimination in their countries. When they arrive in South Africa their hardship does not end. Some women experience sexual persecution while crossing the border, while others may experience oppression, intolerance and discrimination while trying to create a life in South Africa. When they enter the asylum seeker process, they often endure further persecution. These are their stories.

Dangers faced by female journalists

N was born in the Congo. She was married and lived with her family there. In 2009 she was working as a journalist, covering a story about General Bosco Ntaganda, the notorious Congolese leader who was nicknamed “The Terminator”. She gave her employers information about a story that she was developing around allegations that General Ntaganda was deliberately infecting women with HIV. She was arrested and tortured for two days before being released. However, after her release, rebel soldiers came to her house and raped her in front of her parents and husband. Her mother was also raped. The soldiers told her that “this was her last warning” and she decided to flee the Congo for South Africa.

When N applied for asylum in South Africa in 2012, General Ntaganda was wanted for crimes against humanity. Amongst his charges are recruiting child soldiers, rape, murder, persecution based on ethnic grounds and the deliberate targeting of civilians. He finally surrendered in March 2013.

The Refugee Status Determination Officer (RSDO) who interviewed N rejected her application. The reason for the RSDOs decision was that N had “no well-founded fear” and that because she was released after two days of torture, the RSDO felt that the rebels were “not interested in killing/harming [her]”. The officer accused her of not telling him of the “dirt things that were done by officers” (sic). The officer felt that she had not demonstrated that she was subjected to persecution, or that she was targeted.

In early 2014, media watchdogs, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists released their report on media freedom. The report notes that militias in countries like Libya, Yemen, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo name journalists as “enemies” of their respective causes. The 2012 Media Sustainability Index shows that, “Congolese journalists work under a cloud of fear, and resort to self-censorship to protect themselves in a country still plagued by corruption.” Considering that the grounds for asylum in South Africa’s Refugee Act include persecution based on race, tribe, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, N’s claim for asylum should not have been rejected.

16 Days: Stateless in South Africa

 

During 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, the Legal Resources Centre will be sharing the stories of survivors of gender based violence who fled their countries to seek asylum in South Africa. Many women, children and sexual and gender non-conforming persons endure horrific hardship, sexual persecution, assault, rape and discrimination in their countries. When they arrive in South Africa their hardship does not end. Some women experience sexual persecution while crossing the border, while others may experience oppression, intolerance and discrimination while trying to create a life in South Africa. When they enter the asylum seeker process, they often endure further persecution. These are their stories.

Stateless in South Africa

J is 24 and was born in Zimbabwe. She came with her brother to South Africa because she believed that she could find a better life here. “At home there was instability and violence because of the politics and elections. South Africa is idealized as a place of opportunity in Zimbabwe so we thought it would be a good idea.”

Like many immigrants, J crossed over the South Africa-Zimbabwe border with the help of “agents”. Border jumping is a dangerous and expensive way of crossing into South Africa, but desperation drives many Zimbabweans and other migrants to use this route despite the risks. Researchers questioning just a handful of migrants in South Africa have heard that in some instances it can cost them about R2000 to be helped across the border and occasionally migrants have bribed police offices when they are caught. Many women who were interviewed indicated that they had to do “favours” for agents, have been raped and assaulted, and some indicate that people in their groups were murdered. “If you cross, people accuse you, beat you, kill you … they are a mix of South Africans and Zimbabweans. They sometimes rape women. The first time I came, they hit and beat me.”

For many migrants with families or for migrant women giving birth to children in South Africa, living in our country is challenging. J gave birth to children in South Africa. Although everyone has the Constitutional right to access health care in the country, migrants face discrimination at hospitals and are unable to access documentation for their children, rendering their children vulnerable to statelessness. “If you gave birth in the hospital, they tell you that you are here illegally. You have to have a passport to access healthcare in the hospital. We cannot get a South African birth certificate for the children.”

The issue of statelessness is a worldwide issue, especially for children born to migrants. Statelessness leaves people without a nationality, meaning that they cannot enjoy the protections and rights of the country that they live in. For example, some countries will not allow a stateless person to vote, they may have difficulty accessing health care and education and have no legal identity. The UNHCR have calculated that at least ten million people worldwide are currently stateless and a baby is born stateless every ten minutes. They further state that most situations of statelessness are a direct consequence of discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or gender.

When will government speak out against Hate Crimes?

The official crime statistics report released on 19 September by the South African Police Service for the period April 2013 to March 2014 reveals a substantial increase in almost all categories of crime. The same report shows that there was a slight decrease in the total sexual offences. A drop of 5.6% was reported showing a decline from 66,387 last year to the current figure of 62,649.

It is against this backdrop, on 17 September we heard of yet another black lesbian being raped and suffocated. She was found dead in the perpetrators bedroom in Daveyton in the East Rand of Johannesburg. Thembelihle ‘Lihle’ Sokhela, a 28 year old lesbian was last seen a few days earlier. The alleged perpetrator, Thabo Molefe, aged 45years turned himself in at the Daveyton Police.

It is unclear how Lihle ended up in his bedroom. Thabo will remain in police custody throughout the court procedures. According to his mother, Thabo, has a history of violence and had been physically abusing her. “I do not want him in my house anymore; they should keep him locked in there. I am also scared of him” said Thabo’s mother. Thabo’s bail application depends on him finding another address, as his mother does not want him in her house.

In August 2011 the Department of Justice appointed the National Task Team (NTT) in order to address the issue of hate crimes against LGBT people. The NTT later established National Rapid Response Team to fast track the numerous unsolved criminal cases as a matter of urgency. On 29 April 2014, under a grand fanfare, the then Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr J.T Radebe, MP launched the National Intervention Strategy at the Women’s Gaol, Constitutional Hill. The NTT has been notably silent on the latest spate of gruensome murders witnessed in South Africa.

Less than one month ago, Disebo ‘Gift’ Makau was strangled to death with a wire in Ventersdorp in the North West province. A black lesbian, open to her family about her sexuality, Gift was found naked in a yard opposite her house with a hose pipe shoved down her throat and the water tap left running open. The perpetrator will appear in court on 6 October.

Protest demonstration for Disebo Gift Makau_Gugu_Mandla
Protest demonstration in front of the Ventersdorp court for Disebo Gift Makau’s case. Photo by Gugu Mandla

These horrendous violations come at a time when South Africa has an opportunity to vote ‘Yes’, to a UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities (SOGI). The resolution proposed by Chile, Uruguay and Brazil, proposes the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reports bi-annually on good practice and developments in addressing violence on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. “It is really worrying that South Africa has not engaged on this resolution, given that it was the lead country along with Brazil to propose SOGI back in 2011. South Africa voting Yes for this resolution, will be an affirmation of solidarity of many peoples across regions who do not have legal and constitutional protections like we have in South Africa”, says Jabu Pereira, Director of Iranti-org. In response, Iranti-org, has sent an open-letter to the Minister of International Relations, Justice and Social Development to vote in favour of this resolution.

As many civil society organisations prepare and plan a visit to Soweto pride this Saturday, we urge people to have a moment of silence and remember Duduzile Zozo, Thapelo Makhutle, Sasha Lee Gordon, Andritha Morifi, Sanna Supa and many others who lost their lives based on who they chose to love. Lilhe will be laid to rest in Daveyton on Sunday 28 September.

For more information, contact:

Kokeletso Legoete

Tel: 011 325 2366

legoetek@gmail.com

www.iranti-org.co.za

By: Dolar Vasani and Kokeletso Legoete

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the Realising Rights bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Legal Resources Centre. The Legal Resources Centre is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.

 

The “Protection of the Family” Resolution: The Role of South Africa

In April 2014, a resolution on ‘The Family’ (A/HRC/L26/L.20) was placed before the Human Rights Council.  The resolution in its current form was first tabled by Egypt in 2013.  They decided to withdraw it, given that it was viewed as being too controversial and due to a lack of support. This resolution links to initiatives over the last four years,  in which some states, with the support of conservative Christian NGOs based in the United States, have tried unsuccessfully to go back to rigid conceptualisations of the family, trying to retreat from the more flexible and inclusive language currently used in resolutions pertaining to the family.

The essence of the narrowing approach is designed to get formulations of ‘the family’ into international law that will reinforce a family structure that is based on a married man and woman, with the man as the head of the family and woman/women and children subject to the marital authority of the man.  The effect of such a formulation would be to: (a) serve to reinforce restrictions on same-sex relationships; (b) dilute the gains made in terms of promoting women’s equality within marriages, including customary marriages and; (c) place restrictions on children’s rights, particularly in relation to their abilities to access sexual and reproductive health services. The restricted formulation of ‘the family’ may also restrict rights and services to women-headed households and child-headed households.

The ‘language of inclusivity’ is general and refers to the “recognition that in many parts of the world, political and cultural contexts prevail where various forms of the family are to be found”, which was used in a proposed amendment to Resolution A/HRC/L26/L.20 (proposed by Uruguay). Resolution A/HRC/L26/L.20 is also linked to significant political efforts, within and outside of governments, to use discussions on the family to roll back gains made with respect to women’s equality, the rights of children and the rights of people based on their sexual orientation and gendered identities.

In all its international relations engagements, various South African delegations to the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) have always been careful to ensure that resolutions on the family accurately reflect the country’s Constitution and legal frameworks. This is especially important when international resolutions and international law falls short of what is provided for in the South African Constitution or national law. Where international agreements, resolutions or treaties contain elements that provide less protection than the South African Constitution or related national legislation (especially in terms of human rights), then South Africa needs to domesticate or interpret such agreements in line with the South African Constitution and national law.

At the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) in 2014, South Africa in the Africa Group had proposed language on families in line with our national legislation, the Addis Ababa Declaration (which was negotiated in Addis Ababa as a common African position in preparation for the CPD and the forthcoming Special Session on the ICPD scheduled for 22 September 2014, during UNGA69) and in line with previously agreed UN resolutions.  These include HRC Resolution 7/29; UNGA resolution 27/2; UNGA resolution 59/147 and UNGA resolution 65/277. Most importantly, the South African inputs have always sought to ensure that the language on families follow that of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action and the Beijing Platform of Action.

At the core of South Africa’s view of families is the recognition of diversity as indicated in its White Paper on Families. The White Paper lists the following as part of its strategic priorities:

  • Respect the diverse family types and values in the country;
  • Put in place measures to eradicate discrimination related to, among others, age, gender, birth, sexual orientation, race, ethnic or social origin, marital status, disability, beliefs, culture, language, physical and mental conditions, family composition, financial conditions, and blood relations;
  • Provide families, regardless of structure, with parenting and relationship assistance, focusing particularly on the social and emotional side of a child’s development and parental relationships.

The White Paper is in line with section 9 (3)[1] of the Constitution which, aside from its strong emphasis on non-discrimination within the Bill of Rights, also provided for the development of legal instruments to protect the rights of people to have same-sex marriages through the Civil Union Act 17 of 2006 and for the protection of women married in customary law, through the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998.

The idea of changing family structures and the diversity of families are indeed African positions. African Heads of State and Government demonstrated this through their endorsement of the Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development in Africa beyond 2014 at the AU Summit in January 2014. This outcome document was carefully negotiated in the interest of reaching a consensus and the following paragraphs pertaining to the family was agreed upon in that document:

  • Recognizing that population dynamics and growth, changing age structure, urbanization, migration and changing household and family structure, influence the opportunities for human development, and are essential to effective planning for inclusive economic growth and social development, as well as for sustainable development;
  • Address and improve the welfare, livelihoods and stability of families and communities and the longevity of people through inclusive social protection policies and programmes;
  • Develop and strengthen family related programmes that would address challenges facing emerging family structures such as female-headed households, child-headed households and households headed by older persons;
  • Adopt and implement legislation, policies and measures that prevent, punish and eradicate gender based violence within and outside of the family, as well as in conflict and post-conflict situations.

However, in response to the amendment tabled by Uruguay to Resolution A/HRC/L26/L.20, South Africa voted to block the tabling and discussion of this proposed amendment and supported the Resolution on the grounds that it was “merely procedural”.

Human rights are fundamental issues of the Global South. It is their distortion by narrow, reactionary agendas, often driven and financed from the North, that South Africa needs to consistently reject. There is nothing that can be held to be “merely procedural” in international political arenas and to use this as an explanation is disingenuous and unworthy.

Steps are needed to remedy the situation. Resolution A/HRC/L26/L.20 called for the Human Rights Council to debate the issue of the family in its September 2014 sitting, and this debate is happening today. South Africa needs to stand firm in its position, the position of the AU and the position of all who resist the manipulations of the religious right.

[1] Section 9(3) of South Africa’s Constitution expressly prohibits unfair discrimination on any grounds. It reads as follows: The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

By Janet Love

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the Realising Rights bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Legal Resources Centre. The Legal Resources Centre is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.