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The Jewish Report Editorial

Human rights are human rights, however you look at them

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We are winging our way towards Human Rights Day (21 March), the first public holiday of the year, which coincides with Purim. I can’t help but wonder about our concept of human rights and what it means, not least of all, to our government.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Mar 14, 2019

For a start, it was clear the previous incumbents in the government took human rights very personally – clearly only considering their own rights, and not those of the citizens of this country.

All the former president’s promises of uplifting and caring about human rights were apparently fake. He and his cronies really didn’t care about the poorest of the poor, or ensuring the youth were given opportunities to become contributing members of society. No, what is becoming more and more apparent through the various commissions of inquiry is that they were only intent on enriching themselves.

Members of this same ruling party created one of the most beautiful constitutions in the world, with a Bill of Rights that surpasses those in most countries. They thought of everything.

Perhaps they might now begin to implement it. Time and elections will tell.

Having said that, I am amazed at our government and ruling party seeming so set on fighting tooth and nail for human rights in other countries. Or so they so often say…

But, at the same time, they cosy up to some of the most despicable leaders in governments that have absolutely no regard for the human rights of their population.

Just last week, they met with Iranian leaders who visited South Africa to work on an improved relationship. (See page 8.)

In Iran, people may not even hold a peaceful protest. Women are forced to do their husbands’ bidding and have no right to travel without their written permission. They are forced to wear hijabs, and when some protested against this law, they were sentenced to imprisonment ranging from a few months to 20 years, according to Human Rights Watch’s latest World Report. Women are even banned from attending men’s sporting tournaments, including football matches. And that isn’t all…

But South Africa is keen to have better relations with this country.

We have very close relations with China, whose human rights record is also totally unacceptable. The authorities there repress and systematically abuse the 13 million Turkic Muslims in the country’s north-western Xinjiang region, according to the report. It states that the Chinese government has “carried out mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment of some of these people in detention facilities…”.

The Chinese government classifies many religious groups outside its control as “evil cults”, and subjects members to police harassment, torture, detention and imprisonment, according to the report.

Last year, that government collected biometrics, including DNA and voice samples, for surveillance purposes, developing a nationwide punishment and reward system. This information, says the report, is for policing programmes aimed at preventing dissent. And so it goes on.

I can name a number of other countries that our government appears happy to have close relations with despite their record of human rights abuses.

However, a tiny democracy in the Middle East appears to be its Achilles heel. This country may not be perfect, but compared to the countries South Africa has relations with (as in those two above), it is far more than angelic.

But for many in the South African government and ruling party, Israel can do no right. The ANC does have a historical bond with the Palestinian people, which goes back to the days of apartheid when the ANC were supported by the Palestinians, and vice versa.

Nevertheless, there is a blind spot to the true picture of Israel. And so there is the constant siding with Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, and the promise of the South African embassy in Israel being downgraded to a mission.

Already, the South African ambassador was recalled and not allowed to go back to work in the Middle East. Word has it that the government is not planning to send another ambassador in his place.

However, our president does seem a tad conflicted around this.

In his most recent discussion in parliament regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which gets brought up by anti-Israel lobbyists with monotonous regularity, he was not quite clear about where to now on this. (See page 4.)

He did say that South Africa was definitely going to downgrade the embassy there. But within seconds, he was talking about being involved in peace negotiations, which surely cannot take place if South Africa has taken such clear sides in the conflict.

I totally understand that the South African government will not rest until there is a two-state solution in the region. I do understand it wants its Palestinian comrades to be “free”.

However, what always baffles me is how it gets so stuck on Israel’s alleged human rights abuses, which simply do not exist, and certainly nowhere near the level of many of its neighbours and South Africa’s friends.

I accept and support that human rights abuses of any kind are totally unacceptable, but if we are going to demand certain standards, we need to demand them of everyone. It cannot only be one little country in the Middle East – it has to be everywhere.

Here’s to a thought-provoking Human Rights Day and a Chag Purim Sameach!

Shabbat Shalom!

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