SADC ought to safeguard human rights


With the 25th anniversary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) coming up, Human Rights Watch, an international non-profit human rights organisation, called on the regional economic community – comprising 15 member countries, including South Africa – to reaffirm its commitment to improving respect for human rights among its member countries.

This call was made at an event held at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Rosebank on 7 August. Heads of state of the SADC’s 15 members are set to meet from 19 to 20 August in Pretoria for their 37th summit.

Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director of Human Rights Watch said the SADC ought to be more proactive in their approach towards the promotion of peace and stability on the African continent.

However, despite the adoption of the SADC Treaty in 1992, which commits the founding member countries to act in accordance with the principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, Mavhinga said the recent past has displayed regressive steps which weaken and undermine key rights protection mechanisms such as the SADC Tribunal, which he added drastically undercuts its human rights protection mandate.

“To contribute to lasting peace and stability, and respond to the real needs of ordinary people, SADC leadership should vigorously implement regional and international human rights standards,” he said.

“One important step [towards achieving this] would be to restore the SADC Tribunal’s mandate to consider human rights cases brought by individuals.

Southern Africa Director of Human Rights Watch prompts SADC to re-commit its focus towards protecting human rights on the African continent.

“In 2008, the regional leaders made efforts to protect women’s rights by adopting the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development; obligating member states to include women’s equality in their constitutions as a safeguard to prevent the use of other lower laws, which include religious and customary laws, which [instead] undermine women’s equality. In reality, the subregion continues to have high rates of forced and child marriages.

“The Human Rights Watch has documented a number of factors that contribute to teenage pregnancies in certain African regions, including Tanzania. The lack of information about sexuality and reproduction, and sexual violence and exploitation were found to be forerunners in prompting the scourge.

“All SADC countries need to improve the quality of people’s lives in accordance with their commitment to guarantee basic rights.”

Mavhinga ended by stating that South Africa, which takes over as SADC chair for the next 12 months, should prioritise human rights.

“South Africa should make human rights promotion in the region the centrepiece of its legacy going forward.”

Tell us if you think South Africa can uphold the SADC’s commitment to protecting human rights, by posting your comments on our Facebook page.

Tshepiso Mametela

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