The ICJ today called on the South African government to take measures to ensure access to justice and the full fulfillment of the economic, social and cultural rights of all in the country.
The South African authorities must also remove legal hurdles in accessing just compensation for rights violations occurring during nationwide lockdown, the ICJ said.
The call comes as South Africa enters its final week of a lockdown period, which initially began on 26 March 2020. Since the beginning of the lockdown period the ICJ has been working closely with a broad coalition of local civil society organizations and movements called the C19 People’s Coalition.
“The ICJ applauds South Africa on its announcement that it will commit 10% of its GDP to a social relief and economic support package addressing poverty and in inequality which has been exacerbated by COVID-19,” said Arnold Tsunga, ICJ Africa Director.
“However we note with concern the high levels of repression and human rights abuses committed by enforcement officers enforcing Lockdown Regulations and the inadequacy of social assistance measures to ensure an effective elimination of poverty in accordance with South Africa’s international and domestic human right obligations.”
- Repression and human rights abuses by enforcement officers during Lockdown
Both the Disaster Management Act and Lockdown Regulations enacted in terms of it create doubt about whether victims of violations of human rights in the enforcement of lockdown will be able to claim compensation for such violations.
The ICJ has therefore written to President Cyril Ramaphosa (photo) and Speaker of the National Assembly Thandi Modise calling on the authorities to make the necessary legal amendments required to ensure the full protection of the right to access to justice, which includes the right to effective remedies and reparation.
The ICJ calls on authorities to ensure the amendment of the National Disaster Act and Lockdown Regulations to ensure that victims of human rights abuses have full and effective access to the right to remedy and reparation including compensation.
- Inadequate Social Assistance provided
Despite the large stimulus package announced by President Ramaphosa on 21 April, the C19 People’s Coalition has correctly argued that the new COVID-19 social grant of R350 ($18.44 USD) per month for unemployed persons is less than a third of the R1227 ($64.65) that government itself estimates individuals require to be lifted out of poverty.
In addition, the increase of the Child Support Grant of R500 ($26.35) per month appears, contrary to what the President’s announcement suggested, to be allocated per caregiver not per child thus drastically reducing its potential impact.
The ICJ calls on authorities to ensure the full provision of a social safety net to all in South Africa by: 1) raising the levels of all non-contributory social assistance benefits to a level that ensures an adequate standard of living for recipients and their families; and 2) ensuring that those between the ages of 18 and 59 with little or no income have access to social assistance.
These two measures were among those specified in the Concluding Observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to South Africa.
- Continued Evictions
South Africa declared a moratorium on all evictions during the lockdown period on 26 March after local organizations and the ICJ had called for such a move.
Later amendments to Lockdown Regulations made it a criminal offence for any person to evict any other person. Despite this, evictions continue in some places unabated as is illustrated by statements of Abahlali BaseMjondolo and Abahlali BaseMjondolo Women’s League late last week.
These evictions have sometimes been violent and accompanied by serious allegations of attempted murder of community members and human rights defenders.
The ICJ calls on authorities to ensure the immediate cessation of all evictions. The President of South Africa and the Parliament of South Africa must make sure that police officers, security and other companies and government officials participating in evictions are clearly, decisively and publicly held to account.
Those carrying out evictions should be prosecuted in accordance with Lockdown Regulations. The police and prosecuting authorities should also investigate and where sufficient evidence exists pursue prosecution of those found to have committed crimes of violence or similar offences against those who are subjected to or defend against such evictions.
“The continued violent attacks experienced by human rights defenders and those simply trying to retain their homes is unacceptable. The time has come for the President of South Africa and Parliament of South Africa to intervene directly to prevent any further such attacks generally, but in particular with regard to Abahlali BaseMjondolo settlements in KwaZulu-Natal,” added Arnold Tsunga, ICJ Africa Director.
Tim Fish Hodgson, ICJ Legal Adviser, t: +2782871990 ; e: tim.hodgson(a)icj.org
Shaazia Ebrahim, ICJ Media Officer, t: +27716706719 ; e: shaazia.ebrahim(a)icj.orgAdvocacyNewsOpen letters