Open Letter to the African Commission Regarding the Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa


As civil society organisations based in and working on human rights issues on the African continent, we are particularly concerned about the loss of lives, injuries to persons, and damage to private property and the dignity of foreign nationals living in South Africa, which are a grave violation of their rights protected under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter). The right to life, not to be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to strict equality before the law are non-derogable rights – not dependent on a person’s status in a country.  The status of foreign nationals who are victims of the attacks in South Africa is therefore irrelevant.

We note statements of several governments, including the South African government, to provide assistance for individuals leaving the country. While those who wish to leave should be assisted to do so, the solution to the violence should not be to repatriate all foreign nationals, but to ensure an environment in the country in which their rights are protected. Furthermore, the acts of those carrying out attacks against foreign nationals should not be rewarded by assisting them to achieve their objective of ridding South Africa of foreign nationals. In this regard, we remind all States of the provisions of Article 12 of the African Charter which prohibits the mass expulsion of foreign nationals, including mass expulsion aimed at national groups.

We are further concerned by comments made by persons in positions of authority and influence which may amount to incitement to violence and the role that these play in perpetuating xenophobia. While some statements have been made to condemn the violence, we are concerned that not enough concrete steps are being taken to prevent such attacks, prosecute perpetrators, protect foreign nationals and prevent the mass coerced exodus of foreign nationals from the country.

We, the undersigned organisations, request the African Commission to call upon the government of South Africa to:

–   Protect foreign nationals from further attacks, including by increasing police presence in high-risk areas and immediately implementing conflict resolution initiatives in these areas involving the Department of Home Affairs.

– Provide urgent humanitarian assistance to internally displaced foreign nationals in the country, including counselling for trauma.

–  Bring perpetrators of violence against foreign nationals to justice. To facilitate such  prosecutions the Department of Justice should set up special courts, as was done during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, to deal with all cases of violence against foreign nationals in a bid to ease the burden on the courts. Information on accessing these courts should be widely disseminated.

–  Investigate and bring to justice the instigators behind the perpetration of the violence.

– Condemn unequivocally comments by persons in positions of authority and influence which may amount to incitement to violence.

–  Effectively engage the broadest possible South African public, in order to curb and eradicate xenophobia and xenophobic violence. These messages should be repeated, constantly re-iterated and not only heard after crises moments. They should be accessible, in local languages, should be expressed directly to communities, and should involve local leaders.

In 2008, the xenophobic attacks left at least 62 dead, hundreds wounded, and contributed to the displacement of 100,000 people or more. Following those attacks the South African Human Rights Commission prepared a report[i] with their findings and recommendations. We call on you to remind the South African government of this report and call upon the government to immediately implement the recommendations found therein.

In addition, we request you to call upon governments of other countries to ensure steps are taken to prevent reprisals against South African nationals in their territories. International organisations should also assist with humanitarian assistance for internally displaced foreign nationals in South Africa and those returning to their own countries following the attacks.

Submitted by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh

Executive Director

Signed by the following concerned Civil Society Organisations based in and working on human rights issues on the African continent:

  1.  Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR – South Africa)
  2. SADC Lawyers Association (SADC LA)
  3. Legal Resources Centre (LRC), South Africa
  4. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Zimbabwe
  5. The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
  6. Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), Namibia
  7. Women Advocates’ Research and Documentation Center (WARDC), Nigeria
  8. Africa Legal Aid (AFLA)
  9. Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC)
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