Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 24 April 2005

SA compromises democracy for development


By Peter Fabricius, The Star (South Africa)

April 22, 2005 — Human Rights Watch has urged South Africa to revive its reputation as a champion of human rights by supporting a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) condemning Sudan’s human rights abuses in Darfur.

At first glance this appeal seems reasonable enough. But the more one examines it, the more one realises it is in fact an anachronism, referring to SA’s stance on human rights in the Mandela era.

In the Mbeki era SA has taken a significantly different approach to human rights, as a brief scan of its voting record at the UNHRC shows.

This month, for example, SA has voted against resolutions condemning human rights abuses in North Korea and Cuba and abstained from voting on a similar resolution on Belarus. On all these resolutions the First World democracies generally voted for and the developing countries voted against.
In the case of Cuba one could perhaps attribute SA’s position to sentimental and historical ties with Fidel Castro. But the same cannot be said for North Korea and Belarus with which SA has no special relationship.

The voting pattern at the UNHRC reveals that the commission has become a political battleground between the First and Third Worlds, rather than an instrument for the protection of the victims of human rights abuses. SA, which in the Mandela era, tended to vote in genuine defence of human rights, has now clearly joined the Third World camp and votes with it, reflexively, against what is seen as the First World use of human rights as a pretext for "interference" in the sovereignty of Third World states.

Conversely, SA goes along with Third World resolutions which suggest that democracy and respect for human rights should not be expected from underdeveloped states.

Such a resolution on April 14 said that "democracy, development and respect for human rights were independent and mutually reinforcing". It urged states "to eliminate obstacles and threats to democracy ... such as illiteracy, poverty and discrimination".

The First World countries voted against this resolution. Netherlands representative, Ian de Jong, said the resolution "implied that international aid and development were pre-requisites for democracy.

"There should be no excuse for governments not to allow their citizens to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms," he said.

The gist of the Third World position is that developing world countries should not be blamed for abusing their people; it is rather rich First World governments that should be blamed for creating the socio-economic conditions which make it impossible for the Third World governments to respect human rights.

Analysis of SA’s UNHRC voting record also suggests that no one should be surprised that SA election observers approved Zimbabwe’s controversial parliamentary election results earlier this month.

If SA cannot bring itself to criticise the human rights abuses of a mad state like North Korea, why would one expect it to criticise the comparatively harmless manipulation of election results in Zimbabwe?

SA does not seem to be pursuing any quiet diplomacy with North Korea (unless it is very quiet, of course).

The UNHRC voting record suggests that SA now opposes in principle any public criticism of the democratic or human rights record of another state and places the onus for development, and therefore for Third World human rights and democracy, firmly in the hands of the First World.

Almost by definition, one should not have expected SA election observers to condemn the Zimbabwe elections. They refrained from doing so not so much because of the tactics of quiet diplomacy, but because of ideology; the ANC’s Third World socialist ideology, which puts development before democracy, both in value and in the causal chain.

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