Opening Remarks by the South African Minister of Foreign
Affairs,Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at Human Rights Seminar, Pretoria, 26 February
His Excellency, Dr Jorge Taiana
Representatives of Civil Society
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to say a few words
at the opening of this important seminar, organized by the Centre for Human Rights
of the University of Pretoria on behalf of the governments of South Africa and
This seminar is a first of its kind between our two governments
focusing on the four important human rights themes namely; truth, restorative
justice, memory and racial discrimination. It indeed provides useful ammunition
to help us arrive at a common vision on human rights.
Kofi Annan, a great
African patriot and the former Secretary-General of the United Nations describes
human rights correctly:
"Human rights are foreign to no culture and
native to all nations
that they are thus universal
that one cannot pick
and choose among human rights whether civil, cultural, social, economic or political,
for a fundamental feature of these rights is their indivisibility and interdependence."
involvement of the University of Pretoria as an organiser of this seminar is equally
significant. This university has transformed itself from an institution perceived
by many in our country as the custodian of the apartheid intellectual thinking,
to a world class centre of excellence championing the cause of human rights.
commendable joint initiative between academics the two governments and members
of civil society could not have come at a better time for both our young democracies,
particularly because the two countries have a lot in common.
Africa and Argentina have recently emerged from an unfortunate history of gross
human rights violations which manifested itself in institutionalised racism, wholesale
disappearances of people, deaths in detention, a justice system which served the
interests of a few, characterised by a blatant denial of human rights and fundamental
freedoms for the majority of its citizens.
The two countries in redressing
the wrongs of the past face similar challenges.
Following our hard-won victory
in 1994 and given the peculiarities of our situation, we adopted a Constitution
founded on the Bill of Rights, a cornerstone of our democratic order, which contain
all our people's rights, including second and third generation rights.
an inclusive negotiated process, we arrived at a democratic constitution, which
laid the basis for national reconciliation, an attempt to close a dark chapter
in our history and 'reversing all that was ugly and repulsive in our society.'
This gave birth to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to which
our former President Nelson Mandela had this to say:
Africans are determined that the past be known, the better to ensure that it is
not repeated. They seek this, not out of vengeance, but so that we can move into
the future together. The choice of our nation is not whether the past should be
revealed, but rather to ensure that it comes to be known in a way which promotes
reconciliation and peace."
The TRC process, with all its imperfections
was a crucial component of our country's transition to full and free democracy.
Truth Commissions are sometimes criticised for allowing crimes to go unpunished
and encouraging impunity for serious human rights violations, they nonetheless
help provide political space for a common future.
They also serve as guarantees
against historical revisionism, including state terrorism, crimes against humanity,
war crimes and genocides.
Coupled with the TRC process, the democratic
government put in place other necessary interventions critical of which was the
repeal of all repressive laws.
In its place our parliament passed new pieces
of legislation predicated on human rights, human dignity, equality and non-discrimination.
Our Bill of Rights and a host of other laws including the Promotion of
Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act were incorporated into our
We also paid special attention to the rights of women and children,
who incidentally are still vulnerable judging by the blows of many kinds inflicted
on them on a daily basis.
Our interventions were informed by our own experience,
which recognised that pre-1994, black women suffered triple oppression; oppressed
for being black, enslaved as workers and abused as women. Our laws had to be sensitive
to that and designed to give women dignity and equal opportunities.
our constitutional and legislative framework is in place and our remedies are
adequately provided for in our judicial system, we still face challenges.
emanate from attitudes and stubborn racial stereotypes born of nostalgia for apartheid
and in some cases resistance to and fear of change. It therefore becomes difficult
to change attitudes in this environment.
Sadly our institutions of higher
learning are not immune from the cancer of racial stereotype which incidentally
militates against the culture of human rights.
Last week, this university
was a scene of a manifestation of this cancer, when some students said to be aligned
to moribund views of a particular political party, staged a demonstration with
racial connotations. Thankfully, the university made the necessary intervention.
the same week, our Minister of Health took ill and was subsequently admitted to
hospital. While the rest of us were praying for her speedy recovery, some politicians
were calling on our President to remove her from office "before she died
there" they said. A blatantly insensitive comment indeed.
will therefore have to examine these and other concerns in its debates and deliberations
over the next few days to help provide a firm foundation for action by our governments,
the academia and members of civil society.
Our President Thabo Mbeki makes
the point in his address on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the establishment
of the TRC, Freedom Park on 16 December 2005:
and nation building can only happen when the South African people, black and white,
through their own initiative, without any prompting from government, take visible
and decisive steps to break down the racial walls that still define us."
are however encouraged that institutions created in support of our constitutional
democracy (the so-called Chapter 9 institutions), continue to undertake important
work, inculcating the culture of human rights and creating an environment in which
respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms can flourish.
years into our democracy we have made discernable progress in our national delivery
system, particularly in the areas of economic, social and cultural rights.
have provided and expanded basic infrastructure, increased access to primary healthcare
and made advances in realising the right to education, and access to housing,
electricity, water and sanitation.
While other regions of the world continue
to downplay the importance of social spending on these activities of social transformation,
we however place priority on them as they are indeed human rights issues.
progress in these areas, we are the first to admit that there is still a lot that
needs to be done to restore the dignity of all our people and accelerating delivery
of basic services.
For us, civil and political rights are inextricably
linked to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. The two international
covenants which regulate these two regimes are treated with equal emphasis in
We are not alone in these endeavours of confronting the ills
of the past. Argentina established the National Commission on the Disappearances
of Persons (CONADEP) in 1983 to investigate the fate of victims of enforced disappearances
(desaparecidos) and other human rights violations visited on them during the military
dictatorship of the 1970s, an era appropriately referred to as a lost decade in
the Latin Americas.
Of course, the findings of the CONADEP Commission are
well documented in the Nunca Más (Never Again) report delivered on 20 September
1984, which opened the doors to the trial of the military junta.
our historical experiences and commitment to uphold human rights and fundamental
freedoms, there exists a scope between our governments to co-operate in shaping
the international human rights agenda and discourse.
The South African-driven
initiatives within the Human Rights Council will obviously appeal to the national
interests of Argentina and indeed to developing nations generally. These include
(i) Follow-up to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance,
(ii) Durban Review Conference to be convened
(iii) Operationalisation of the Right to Development, and
Rectification of the status of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural
On the other hand, we are fully supportive of Argentinean-driven
initiatives within the Human Rights Council such as the Right to the Truth, Involuntary
or Enforced Disappearances, Restorative Justice and the responsibilities of transnational
corporations with respect to human rights.
In the above context our two
governments worked tirelessly in partnership with the main sponsor, France, in
ensuring the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the International
Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances in December
last year. We are already at an advanced stage of signing and ratifying the above
It is clear therefore that the two emerging democracies are
faced with a number of common challenges.
I hope that in the next three
days of your deliberations you will constructively point to these challenges and
provide recommendations that will ensure that the dream of a humane world which
we are all yearning for is realised.
I have great pleasure in inaugurating
this seminar and wish its deliberations a great success.
I thank you.
by the Department of Foreign Affairs
Department of Foreign Affairs
27 February 2007