Annual Report: South Africa 2013

May 23, 2013

Annual Report: South Africa 2013

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The partial or full closure of services at refugee reception offices in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, as well as the closure of the Johannesburg office in 2011, had an increasing impact on asylum-seekers' and recognized refugees' ability to lodge applications, renew their temporary permits or extend refugee status documents. Testimonies by those affected, in particular the poorest and those with families, showed that they were at risk of fines, detention and direct or constructive refoulement.

Challenges to these practices, brought in the High Courts by refugee associations, service providers and human rights lawyers in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, led to rulings against the Department of Home Affairs in February, May, July and August. Despite this, monitors observed that services continued to be denied at reception offices.

The ANC, at its National Policy Conference in June, adopted recommendations on immigration, including establishing “centres [camps] for asylum-seekers”. In December, participants at the ANC's leadership election conference reportedly accepted the recommendations in a resolution on “peace and stability”.

During the year, numerous incidents of looting and destruction of shops and displacement of recognized refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants were documented in most of the nine provinces. In one of the worst incidents, beginning in late June, large-scale property destruction occurred in Free State province with almost 700 mainly Ethiopian refugees and asylum-seekers displaced following the looting of their shops. In this and in many other incidents, the police response was slow and in some cases witnesses reported that police were complicit in the violence.

In Limpopo province, police forcibly closed at least 600 small businesses run by asylum-seekers and refugees, as part of operation “Hard Stick”. The police raids took place without warning, were indiscriminate and also involved the seizure of trading stock. Some asylum-seekers and refugees were subjected to xenophobic verbal abuse, detention and charged or fined for running their businesses. The resulting loss of livelihood and homes increased their vulnerability to other abuses. In September, 30 displaced Ethiopians were forced to flee a house they had been sheltering in after it was petrol-bombed.

Unlawful, prolonged detentions of undocumented migrants as well as individuals in need of international protection remained a concern. In November, a court application by the South African Human Rights Commission and the NGO, People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty, prompted the authorities to release 37 immigration detainees who had been held on average for 233 days without a court warrant.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

Hate-motivated violence, in particular against lesbian women, continued to cause public concern and fear. Between June and November at least seven people, five of them lesbian women, were murdered in what appeared to be targeted attacks based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The government and civil society “Task Team”, set up in 2011 to prevent further incidents, made slow progress. In September, South Africa's human rights record was assessed under the UN Universal Periodic Review; the government confirmed that a “policy framework on combating hate crime, hate speech and unfair discrimination” was at an “advanced stage of finalization”.

In December, Justice Ministry officials publicly condemned hate crimes and gender-based violence as an assault on the right to life and human dignity and acknowledged the “dire need” for public education to combat prejudice based on sexual or gender identity.

Violence against women and children

High levels of sexual violence against women persisted, with police reporting 48,003 cases of rape from April 2011 to March 2012. In the same period, of the 64,514 recorded sexual offences, including rape, women were victims in 40.1% and children in 48.5% of cases. There were renewed calls for the revival of specialized sexual offences courts to address impunity for these crimes.