South Africa’s human rights record will be scrutinized on April 15, 2008 by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva at a Universal Periodic Review Session that is likely to focus on abuses around HIV infections, sexual violence, and asylum procedures.

Under the review process, governments submit a written report and nongovernmental organizations are invited to comment on the human rights situation. But since South Africa did not submit its report until the eve of the session, and did not consult ahead of the session with South African civil society groups and international nongovernmental organizations, these groups were only able to present written concerns about a wide range of human rights issues to the council.

Among the topics of concern to Human Rights Watch are:

  • The high incidence of sexual violence and the scale of HIV infection in South Africa. It is essential that health provision reform due in May 2008 ensure that all victims of sexual violence have prompt access to and information about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to reduce the chance of contracting HIV.
  • The 2007 Sexual Offences Act, which requires victims to either file criminal charges with the South African Police or report the alleged offence to a designated health establishment as a condition of receiving PEP. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have found that conditioning assistance on filing a police report may effectively prevent victims from receiving lifesaving PEP because many survivors are reluctant to file charges or because of police delays.
  • Asylum procedures, which can be onerous. Asylum-seekers often face obstacles in filing asylum applications. With the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, urgent reform is needed to ensure protection for Zimbabweans seeking refuge in South Africa.