"Human Rights? Well, only when it suits us"

Posted July 18, 2016
Written by Mark Heyink

During a period when one of our human rights, the freedom of expression, has been placed under the microscope by the SABC saga, on the 30th June 2016 a resolution was tabled before the General Assembly of the United Nations, aimed at the promotion and protection online of civil, political, economic, social and cultural, developmental and specifically the protection and enjoyment of human rights.

The resolution recognises the challenges facing the protection of these rights due to the rapid pace of technological development globally. It notes the importance of building confidence in the governance of the Internet and expressly notes the rights of freedom of expression and privacy. It also notes the enabling potential of the Internet where cooperation between governments, civil society, the private sector, the technical community and academia is achieved.

It goes on to recognise that for the Internet to remain global, open and interoperable, that States must address security concerns in terms of their international human rights obligations, with particular regard to freedom of expression, freedom of association and privacy.

The resolution provides no surprises, nor does it raise any issues which should not be supported by democracies. The surprise is that the South African delegation at the United Nations disassociated itself from the resolution and the important goals incorporated in this resolution. In doing so it allied itself with, among others, those bastions of human rights, democracy and internet freedom, Russia and China.

Having listened to the statements made by the South African delegation I still have grave difficulty in it not supporting the resolution.  The true motivation appears rather to be curry-favouring with Russia and China, for politically and commercially expedient reasons. In doing so it has played “fast and loose” with our constitution and our country’s reputation as a human rights based democracy.

The unfortunate truth is that the attacks on the freedom of expression by the SABC Board, the contempt with which Hlaudi Motsoeneng openly dismissed the ICASA ruling and the apparent lack of concern in government quarters, particularly that of the Department of Communications, is wholly consistent with the increasingly obvious government policy of “human rights when it suits us".

This appalling failure to align itself with the protection of our online rights and security is further evidence of the lack of respect elements within government have for our constitution and the lack of political will to uphold its principles.

The UN resolution may be accessed: https://www.article19.org/data/files/Internet_Statement_Adopted.pdf

©Mark Heyink 2016



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