Human Rights Watch slams inaction on xenophobic crimes

VIOLENCE ALERT: Police act against looters in Katlehong in Gauteng during a wave of attacks on foreign-owned shops last year
VIOLENCE ALERT: Police act against looters in Katlehong in Gauteng during a wave of attacks on foreign-owned shops last year

SA is being taken to task for a lack of successful prosecution of xenophobia-related crimes.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), in its World Report 2020, highlighted last year’s violence targeting African foreigners and their businesses, which broke out in March and September.

The violence affected parts of Durban before outbreaks were reported in Pretoria, central Johannesburg and the surrounding areas of Germiston, Thokoza, Katlehong, Alberton, Alexandra and Malvern.

Economic insecurity, poverty, high unemployment and rhetoric by government officials, among other factors, led to the xenophobic violence, the report said.

It noted that on March 25, when hundreds of foreigners in Durban were forced to seek shelter as mobs destroyed or looted their homes, trucks and other belongings, the government issued a five-year national action plan to combat xenophobia, racism, gender-based violence and discrimination, and address the cycle of violence that plagues the country.

“But the action plan fails to address a key challenge fuelling the problem: the lack of accountability for xenophobic crimes,” HRW said.

 “Virtually no-one has been convicted for past outbreaks of xenophobic violence, including the attacks in 2019, the Durban violence of April 2015 that displaced thousands of foreign nationals, and the 2008 attacks on foreigners.”

After the violence in Durban in March last year,  “police did not make any arrest following the looting and destruction of foreign-owned homes and businesses, during which some foreign nationals were killed and several others seriously injured”, the report said.

Police minister Bheki Cele said in June that police had arrested 91 alleged attackers.

However, HRW said, “they were charged only with minor traffic offences, and the minister did not describe any clear steps police would take to stop the violence and protect truck drivers and cargo”.

After the attacks aimed at foreigners in September, which left 12 people dead, thousands displaced and businesses looted, more than 600 people were arrested on various charges related to public violence and looting, malicious damage to property and grievous bodily harm, HRW said.

“The arrests took place amid concerns that, as with previous waves of xenophobic violence, prosecutions would fail if police investigations were not thorough.”

In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, HRW reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries.

Executive director Kenneth Roth took aim at the Chinese government, accusing it of being dependent on repression to stay in power.

He said China “is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades”.

He said: “It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future.”