Human Rights Developments
During the course of the year, a range of legislation with important implications for human rights was passed by the National Assembly. These acts included a new Police Act, a Labor Relations Act, an Emergency Act (repealing former emergency legislation and introducing strict controls over emergency powers, in line with the interim constitution), land reform legislation, and an Education Act. At the same time, first steps were taken to developing a truly accountable parliamentary system, as committees of members of parliament (MPs), formed to monitor specific subject areas, accepted public submissions, and held hearings relating to new legislation.
Important reforms were proposed or implemented during the year in the police, prison, and court systems. Police reform included the replacement of the former commissioner of police, who was tainted with involvement in political police operations under the previous government, and the gradual amalgamation of the former homeland police forces even more abusive than the centralized police into a single new national police service. In May, however, three local organizations monitoring human rights published a report alleging that police torture of criminal suspects was continuing on a regular basis. Until the end of August, the Human Rights Committee, a nongovernmental organization monitoring human rights and political violence, recorded twenty-three deaths in police custody. However, in October, when asking for confirmation from the police, they were told that 507 had died in police custody by the end of September, far higher than anything recently recorded in South Africa. The police later stated that the correct figure was 168 deaths, including deaths resulting from injury during arrest, for the first nine months of the year. The new Police Act mandated the establishment of an "independent complaints directorate" to investigate complaints by the public of police misconduct, but human rights groups feared that it would have insufficient powers to be effective.
Prison conditions were characterized by violence both between prisoners and by guards assaulting prisoners. In May, legislation passed in 1994 was implemented by the minister of correctional services to release from prison 700 children awaiting trial. However, lack of consultation with NGOs and other government agencies meant that many of them were not housed in suitable alternative accommodation and either escaped or were released to the streets. In July, a "transformation forum," including representatives of the prison administration, parliament, unions, and NGOs, was established to examine South Africa's correctional system and began to consider proposals for prison reform.
Positive developments for the criminal justice system were threatened by a public outcry at increasing levels of violent crime, and a rise in vigilante justice by individuals frustrated at lack of action against known criminals. Government responses included aggressive police house-to-house searches, and an act to make access to bail more difficult in cases of violent crime, returning the burden of proof to an accused person to show why he or she should be released.
In 1995, the government pledged to ratify a number of international human rights instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In September, a high-level delegation led by the minister of health attended the U.N. women's conference in Beijing and played a prominent role. Important initiatives to address the problem of violence against women were announced during the year, but real progress was hampered by lack of resources to devote to education and training of police and justice officials. Women continued to be discriminated against under customary law.
The new constitutional court, established to adjudicate disputes under the interim constitution, heard its first cases in 1995 and delivered a number of significant judgments based on the bill of rights. Most important of these was the judgment declaring the death penalty unconstitutional, delivered in June.
Political violence in the province of KwaZulu-Natal threatened to undermine the process of reform and reconciliation. Although the number of deaths in political violence in the province was well below the horrific figures preceding the 1994 election, the Human Rights Committee recorded a total of 694 deaths in the province by the end of October, of a total of 1,016 political killings countrywide. The new provincial government remained virtually paralyzed throughout the year due to conflict between the IFP and other parties, particularly the ANC; and, on a national level, the IFP withdrew from the constitutional assembly and, for a period in February, also withdrew from the National Assembly. The basis of the IFP's grievances was its continuing demand for almost total autonomy for the province of KwaZulu-Natal within a federal South Africa.
During the year, there were further revelations of illegal covert activities by the security forces of the previous regimes in Pretoria and the homelands, right up to the date of the 1994 elections. Two trials, of a former South African security branch policeman, and of three police reservists from the KwaZulu homeland, provided the main evidence, including allegations of the involvement of senior IFP and KwaZulu government officials in political assassinations and the promotion of violence. A number of former security police also spoke to the press during the year about their efforts to undermine the ANC and other black opposition groups under the previous regime. An "Investigation Task Unit" (ITU), appointed by the new government in 1994 to follow up allegations made by the Goldstone Commission of hit squad activity in KwaZulu-Natal, made a number of arrests during 1995 in connection with assassinations carried out in the province during the late 1980s. Those arrested included the former minister of defense, Magnus Malan; a personal adviser to IFP leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, M.Z. Khumalo; and a number of former high-ranking security force officials. However, human rights groups expressed concern at the apparent reluctance of provincial Attorney-General Tim McNally to prosecute less high- profile cases put before him by the ITU.
Ominously, reports from KwaZulu-Natal suggested that political assassinations and the deliberate promotion of violence were continuing. While both ANC and IFP supporters were involved in violence, the evidence suggested that systematic efforts to destabilize the province emanated, as in previous years, largely from the IFP. In January, the graduation of 600 recruits from the KwaZulu Police training college in Ulundi, the capital of the former KwaZulu, was blocked by the new national police commissioner and the minister for safety and security, after it was discovered that only fifty-four of them were qualified to graduate and forty-three had criminal records. In September, it was revealed that Inkatha "self protection units" (SPUs), many of whom had passed through paramilitary training camps before the 1994 election, had been paid from provincial government funds during 1995. Both IFP and ANC leaders were the targets of assassination attempts, some of them successful, throughout the year.
In July, legislation to establish a National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation was finally signed into law by President Nelson Mandela, after long negotiations between the various parties to the government of national unity. The commission will hear applications for indemnity from prosecution for persons who committed gross violations of human rights on political grounds, prepare a record of human rights violations committed during the period March 1, 1960 to December 6, 1993, and make recommendations for reparations to the victims. In September, a panel of respected individuals was appointed to oversee the process of selection of the commissioners and make recommendations to the president. It was expected that the Commission itself would not start operations until early in 1996, when it would have a maximum of two years to complete its work.
The transition in South Africa resulted in an increasing number of economic migrants and refugees seeking to enter the country from southern and central Africa. Estimates of the number of illegal aliens in South Africa ranged as high as eight million, or almost 20 percent of the population. A number of attacks on "foreigners" were reported throughout the year, although both the ANC and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) urged tolerance and stated that illegal immigration to South Africa should be seen in the light of the previous government's policies of regional destabilization. New legislation tightened regulation of visas and work permits, and made citizenship more difficult to acquire. In June, the army requested finances for the extension of the electric fence currently bordering Mozambique to cut off the borders of Zimbabwe and Botswana. However, ratification of the refugee conventions of both the U.N. and Organization of African Unity was approved by parliament in October.
Addressing its history of illegal weapons dealing to abusive states, South Africa's arms industry underwent a major restructuring during 1995. A commission of inquiry headed by Mr. Justice Edwin Cameron published an interim report in July, finding "a conclusive and dismal picture of irresponsibility" under the previous government, and urging greater openness in and control over South Africa's arms trade. In August, the cabinet announced the introduction of a new process to authorize weapons exports that would forbid the export of South African arms to governments that violate human rights. South Africa attended the September conference in Vienna on the Convention on Prohibitions and Restrictions on Certain Conventional Weapons, acceding to the convention on September 13. The government disappointed human rights and humanitarian organizations, however, by arguing that, while "long-life" landmines should be banned, "short-life" landmines should be permitted under international law. During October, ratification of the two protocols to the Geneva Conventions was approved by parliament.
The Right to Monitor
No restrictions on human rights monitoring were maintained by the government of national unity. South Africa's human rights community continued the process of adjusting to life under a democratic government. While many individuals active in the human rights and anti-apartheid fields left to join government in one form or another, those remaining in the NGO movement stated their commitment to independent criticism of their former colleagues.
The Role of the International Community
The European Union
The budget of USAID for South Africa totaled U.S.$186 million for FY 1995. $25 million of the total assistance was devoted to the Democracy and Governance Program, which included support for human rights. The priorities of the program in South Africa were strengthening the rule of law and respect for human rights, promoting free and fair elections (for the next national elections in 1999), strengthening civil society, and promoting more accountable governance.
The new South African government's friendly relations with Cuba and a proposed deal for storage of Iranian oil in South Africa caused conflict with the U.S. A longstanding U.S. prosecution being brought against various companies, including Armscor and a U.S. company, International Signal and Control, for sanctions-busting arms deals during the 1980s, also soured U.S./South Africa relations for much of the year, as the U.S. blocked further arms trade between American companies and South Africa as a result. Negotiations for a plea-bargain settlement of the case, after which remaining U.S. arms sanctions against South Africa could be lifted, centered around the payment of heavy fines by Armscor and the other accused.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Africa