(Johannesburg) – South African authorities should ensure that security forces deployed to combat escalating riots and looting respect rights and uphold international law enforcement standards, Human Rights Watch said. today.
The riots, which are concentrated in the provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, have left at least 45 dead and were initially sparked by the jail on July 7, 2021 of former president Jacob Zuma for contempt of court after he he did not appear for a corruption investigation during his presidency. President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a nationwide speech on July 12, acknowledged that despite the initial trigger, widespread looting is also motivated by hardship and poverty. The right to peaceful protest, guaranteed by international law and the South African constitution, does not protect against violence and pillage.
âSouth African authorities should take action to protect people’s lives and property from unlawful violence,â said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “There are a range of measures they can take to restore law and order, and there is no justification for the illegal use of force.”
Ramaphosa said he had “… authorized the deployment of defense force personnel in support of South African Police Service operations.” He added that the government will take measures to protect everyone in the country against threats of violence, intimidation, theft and looting. He said 166 suspects had been arrested in KwaZulu-Natal province and 323 others were held in Gauteng province in connection with the riots and looting.
Ramaphosa has identified 10 people who died during the riots in the provinces of Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng: Nkosikhona Chiza, Ndumiso Shezi, Khaya Mkhize, Zethembe Ndwandwe, Lindani Bhengu and Lindokuhle Gumede, Bhekani Ndlovumini, Themba Mthembu, and Aphiembu Dama Dama Dama Dama, Thembi and Mthembi. Human Rights Watch was unable to establish how they died. The South African Broadcasting Corporation and the Newzroom Afrika news channel reported that some of their reporters’ equipment covering the riots had been stolen.
The South African government should publicly affirm that deployed security forces are required to adhere to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The principles state that law enforcement officials should, to the extent possible, use non-violent means before resorting to force and firearms. They can only use force and firearms “if other means are ineffective or without any promise of achieving the desired result.” Further, the principles state that âwhenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials should: (a) Exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion the seriousness of the infringement and the legitimate objective to be achieved; (b) Minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life.
Beyond the immediate task of protecting the lives of residents, Human Rights Watch said, Ramaphosa and his government should take strong and meaningful steps to improve the enjoyment of basic social and economic rights, which are compromised by widespread unemployment, inequalities, poverty and corruption. . These problems are among the root causes of frequent violent protests in South Africa, including looting and violence targeting foreign nationals.
Ramaphosa acknowledged in his statement that âThis moment has highlighted what we already know: that the level of unemployment, poverty and inequality in our society is unsustainable. We cannot hope for a lasting and lasting peace if we do not create jobs and build a more just and equitable society in which all South Africans can participate freely and on an equal footing.
âA rights-respecting response to the ongoing violent riots requires professional and effective law enforcement,â Mavhinga said. âAny use of excessive and disproportionate force would only make the situation worse. “