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UN Week – 9/3/12

September 14, 2012

This blog entry is written by members of our blogging community and expresses those experts’ views alone.

John and Douglas Carey, Editors

In this issue: South Africa, prosecution of strikers for deaths by police; protection zones in Syria? US non-participation in disappearance pact.

South Africa, prosecution of strikers for deaths by police

The New York Times on August 31st carried a story headlined “South African Miners Face Murder Charges After Deaths From Police Gunfire.” The story reports that 34 miners were killed when police fired into a crowd of 3,000 strikers at a mine.

Said the Times, “prosecutors are bringing charges against a surprising set of suspects: the miners themselves.” The 270 miners charged are accused of acting for a “common purpose” with those who shot the victims, in other word with being accomplices of the police. The legal theory of “common purpose” is said by the Times to have been used by the apartheid regime during its later days. Today’s Times says the charges are “provisionally dropped.”

Yet the present South African government was praised, in its second quadrennial Universal Periodic Review (UPR), for the progress made since 1994, when Nelson Mandela and his party, the ANC, came to power.

But mostly missing from the documentation on the country’s 2012 UPR is any mention of working conditions, let alone any right to collective bargaining or a right to organize unions, this despite the Government’s own hopeful assertion that:

“10. Even in the midst of bitter struggle, the liberation movement of South Africa developed moral values of human compassion and solidarity far beyond the narrow confines of its opposition to the apartheid social system. It represented something good, not just something better than apartheid. It asserted the humanness of the human spirit – the search for societies at peace within and among themselves.” A/HRC/21/16 at 4.

The Government noted an unusual step to combat “the recent spate of violence that had targeted lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons” when it stated that, “Recently, four perpetrators of the so-called ‘corrective rape’ of lesbians had been sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment.” Id. at 5.

But among scores of recommendations made by dozens of other countries, the only two even touching on working conditions were:

(1) Namibia’s suggestion that South Africa “adopt legislation to enable registered South African companies to be held liable for violations of human and labour rights beyond South Africa’s borders,” id. at 16, and (2) Pales-tine’s proposal to, “Develop further decent work/labour [sic] through the comprehensive economic growth.” Id. at 22.

Protection zones in Syria?

Last week Turkey called on the Security Council to establish camps within Syria where frantic civilians could gather instead of fleeing by the thousands into Lebanon or Turkey. Whose personnel would protect Syrian citizens against attack by Syrian Government forces on Syrian soil is unclear. Even if legal issues were resolved by Security Council auth-orization, there is a precedent that must give serious pause to any such plan.

At a certain stage of Bosnia’s inter-faith warfare, the UN authorized creation of so-called “safe areas” where Muslims were to be protected by troops from participating countries. But the Bosnian Serb forces, under the now-convicted General Ratko Mladic, would have none of it. They drove out a Dutch Battalion among others and massacred thousands of Muslim men and boys. A question still is whether the Dutch should have stood fast.

US non-participation in disappearance convention.

The report of the Secretary-General on the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, A/67/271, dated 8 August and posted on the web September 1st, makes no reference to the US, either as having ratified the Convention, or acceded to it, or even signed it. Ninety-four countries are listed as having taken at least one of these actions. Russia, China, Canada and the United Kingdom are also missing from the list. Id. at 16. Declarations and reservations can be seen at

The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, “since its inception, . . . has transmitted more than 53,778 individual cases to Governments in more than 90 States. The number of cases under active consideration that have not yet been clarified, closed or discontinued stands at 42,759 and concerns 82 States. The Working Group has been able to clarify 448 cases over the past five years.” Id. at 12.

“UNHCR [High Commissioner for Refugees] has referred to the Convention in a number of publications and reports, which are accessible on its online Refworld database.” Id. at 13.

“The International Coalition against Enforced Disappearances, which comprises 41 non-governmental organizations from Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Euro-Mediterranean region and the United States of America, has undertaken a number of activities to promote the Convention, including by sending letters to Governments; coordinating national campaigns; participating in conferences, dialogues and forums all over the world, publishing quarterly e-newsletters, commemorating the International Week of the Disappeared; and maintaining two websites.” Id. at 14.

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