Madam President,

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet,

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to be joining you today, utilizing this platform, the new normal, to speak to you in Geneva, the capital of peace and a symbol of multilateralism.

Each session of this Council is an opportunity for all of us, and certainly South Africa to commit ourselves to the promotion, protection and practical realization and enjoyment of human rights and respect for the rule of international law.

Having celebrated the United Nation’s 75th Anniversary last year, and as observed in the declaration adopted on that momentous occasion, multilateralism is the only way to address the myriad of emerging global challenges we are experiencing in the more than 75 years of the existence of the United Nations.

2021 marks the beginning of the period that the General Assembly has reserved for the review of the Council. This period, 2021-2026, provides us an opportunity to have a genuine and deep reflection about whether the Council is able to rise to the occasion on its mandate as provided by the General Assembly. In so doing, we ought to ensure that we reinforce the credibility and authority of the Council amidst the new challenges that confront us and the international system.

We need a strong and efficient Council that can contribute with solutions and guarantees promoting and protecting all rights for all people. This Council must be true to the letter and the spirit of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action by truly treating all human rights as universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis.

We need a Council that responds to all violations and abuses, regardless of where they have been committed or who has committed them. We must therefore rid the Council of its challenges and those that saw the demise of its predecessor, the erstwhile Commission on Human Rights. We must rid the Council of politicisation, selectivity and double-standardisation when addressing human rights matters, be it thematic or country-specific issues. 

Madam President,

In 2023, we will be mark the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which led to the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The adoption of this declaration was inspired by the events in South Africa, in particular the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960. The adoption of both the declaration and ICERD, are indeed momentous occasions for South Africans and the international community.

For South Africans, this was an important occasion as it gave a shot to the jugular of the apartheid regime. It also strengthen our faith and gave us hope that the United Nations was indeed up to the task of ridding our society of the ills of violations and abuses of human rights. It gave us hope that the scourge of racism and racial discrimination would be eradicated. We welcome the progress achieved in many parts of the world, including my own country, South Africa, in the fight against racism and racial discrimination.

Madam President, 

It is quite disheartening, though, to observe that fifty-eight years on and having convened the four world conferences whose purpose was to eliminate this scourge, racism and racial discrimination are on the rise in some regions of the world, including during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, we have taken to politicise the anti-racism agenda and thus enabling the perpetration of this scourge.

We need to work in unison to combat this scourge. The 20th anniversary of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance provides us with such an opportunity.

We welcome the decision of the General Assembly, as recommended by the Council, to convene the High-level Meeting to commemorate the twentieth (20th) anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA). We look forward to engaging with the international community on the outcomes of that meeting. We hope that the outcomes of the meeting will reaffirm and chart a path to the renewed commitment to the decisions taken by our leaders when they adopted the DDPA.

Madam President,

The international community is faced with ever-increasing global challenges which have converged in a multi-front assault on human dignity. These challenges have manifested themselves through financial and economic crises, unemployment, climate change, displacement of peoples, and other global problems, and lately the Covid-19 pandemic. In order for us to address these challenges, it would require a comprehensive, multilateral and multi-stakeholder response.

These trajectories represent the opposite of the letter and the spirit of the founding principle and vision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that gave birth to modern international human rights movement, promising freedom from fear and want, and declaring that “everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration can be fully realized”.

It is for this reason that we, the international community, sought to solidify a call for all human rights to enjoy equal importance and sought to end the qualitative division between civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights. In addition, this process was aimed at giving credence to a narrative harboured by proponents of the right to development by asserting its relevance and or primacy against skeptics or rejectionists who continue to deny its very existence by relegating it to secondary importance.

The Declaration on the right to development provides an essential guide to the manner in which States, the international community and all organs of society must act and cooperate to ensure an enabling environment for development that is sustainable, just, equitable and inclusive. The Declaration recognizes that the right to development cannot be realized, nor can all States fulfil their responsibilities without effective cooperation among States. To this end, it imposes on States and the international community, a duty to cooperate to achieve its transformative vision. It is against this backdrop that South Africa, as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, remains resolute in the quest to ensure the realization of the right to development. We will continue to support efforts to codify the right to development in international human rights law. 

Madam President,

As the international community continues to grapple with COVID-19 and other emerging challenges, it is essential that we do not lose focus on other important issues that impact on human dignity and impede the realisation and enjoyment of human rights. 

One such issue is the question of self-determination of the people of Western Sahara and the continued systematic annexation of Palestinian lands, accompanied by human rights violations in the occupied territories. These realities are of grave concern for South Africa.

South Africa believes that it is only initiatives developed with the full participation of the people of Palestine and Western-Sahara that can achieve lasting peace and we remain unequivocal in our assertion that that genuine inclusive, open dialogue can resolve the current impasse.

On Palestine, we reaffirm that the only way to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East is through reaching a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis themselves through a negotiated settlement.  The Palestinian, like everybody else in the world, should be allowed the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination.  We will continue to support their quest for a viable two state-solution.

Madam President,

In conclusion, South Africa looks forward to contributing to humanity’s collective response in confronting the myriad global challenges before us through a firm commitment to multilateralism and promoting human rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality, the rule of law, sustainable development and peace and security in 2021 and beyond.

I wish you the greatest success in your deliberations and a very productive session. I thank you for your commitment with the validity of human rights and for your daily contribution to make the United Nations truly relevant for all.

I thank you.