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South African President's stance at CHOGM 2013 undermines fight for justice and accountability

President Zuma fails to use the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka to call for truth-seeking and accountability for state-sponsored gross human rights violations in Sri Lanka and confirms the fears of victims and survivors that President Zuma has abandoned them and the continuing struggle for justice and inclusive reparations.

In an article in today's Mail&Guardian, Mr Ruki Fernando* explains that Zuma appeared to have joined hands with Sri Lanka's authoritarian rulers in warding off measures of accountability and pushed for a South African-style TRC.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) took place in Sri Lanka against the backdrop of unceasing harassment of human rights activists by state officials in that country. As the Sri Lankan government organised or orchestrated pro-government rallies across the country prior to and during CHOGM, Sri Lankan police cracked down on protests by victims of abuse. Sadly and regrettably, South Africa's President Zuma who attended the meeting, failed to make a stand against the continuing perpetration of violations by the state against its own citizens in Sri Lanka.

Mr Fernando warns that the promotion of the flawed process of the South African TRC "without honest self-reflection, would spell disaster for Sri Lanka or any other country." He points to the lack of 'justice and reparations for the vast majority of apartheid-era victims, survivors and their families, even two decades after the transition to democracy'. He points also to evidence of how "the many domestic commissions that this and previous Sri Lankan governments have appointed show that there is absolutely no real interest in truth-seeking or accountability on their part. The recommendations of the most recent high-profile commission remain unimplemented more than two years later; the reports of other commissions have never been published."

On the eve of South Africa's 20th anniversary of democracy, these failures are at the forefront of citizen's widespread disillusionment with the state's commitment to make good on reparations for all victims of gross human rights violations in the country. The state currently claims that its decision to allocate the remaining funds in the President's Fund to 128 municipalities for building infrastructure supports the Reconstruction and Development Programme.

Khulumani fundamentally opposes these proposals given that there are multiple provisions for Municipal Infrastructure Grants available from the National Treasury in a situation where there is no investment in the lives of those who were set back so severely by what was done to them, that they have over 20 years not yet been able to become self-reliant.

Khulumani opposes this 'abuse' of dedicated Victims Reparations Funding in a context where the state has no plans to register survivors of apartheid gross human rights violations for a simple and potentially transformative reparations grant. Khulumani calls on the Minister of Finance to immediately stop the plan of the Department of Justice to allocate victims' funds to structures within municipalities.

Khulumani will be meeting the Office of the Chief Justice on Monday 25 November at Constitutional Hill and will be marching to Parliament on Tuesday 26 November to engage the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr Luwellyn Landers on these issues that remain unresolved after so many years of advocacy in the country.

Khulumani members have called on communities to withhold their vote in the coming national elections. This is a huge contrast from the 2009 National Election when Khulumani members applied to become trained election observers and began efforts to make a difference in their local communities in what they anticipated might be a 'second transition' to a more just and inclusive society in South Africa. They have been sorely disappointed.

The call going out presently is one of withholding the vote in the context of a state that has confirmed its incapacity to be open and responsive to the contributions and engagement of citizens as equal partners in making a society that works for all its people.

While this is the message and vision of the National Development Plan, many government departments remain unable to value citizens as the critical resource for contributing to VISION 2030. Perhaps it is time for them to relinquish power. 

*Mr Fernando is a Sri Lankan activist based in Colombo and attached to the Inform Human Rights Documentation Centre. Earlier this year, he was a research fellow at St Augustine's College in South Africa and is an associate of the Khulumani Support Group.

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