Since rejoining the Human Rights Council in
2014, South Africa has consistently
abstained on all resolutions on country situations – except those on the
occupied Arab territories.
Voting Record in 2016
Voting Record in 2015
South Africa plays a highly visible role at the Human Rights Council, including by championing the Council’s engagement on various thematic issues such as combating racism and discrimination. At the same time, South Africa has been unwilling to engage in the bulk of the Council’s work regarding situations of violations. In the past year, South Africa abstained on all country resolutions under Items 2, 4 and 10, including those on Syria, Sri Lanka, North Korea, Belarus and Iran. South Africa also did not support joint statements on the situations in Bahrain and Egypt.
In spite of South Africa’s general lack of support for resolutions addressing country situations, it voted in favor of all the resolutions focusing on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories (OPT). The contrast between South Africa’s votes on the resolutions on the OPT's and its votes on all other situations raises serious questions about double standards and selectivity in its approach to the Council.
South Africa did not co-sponsor any country resolutions in its national capacity, joining only those resolutions presented by the African Group or those addressing the situation in the OPT. In 2014, South Africa failed to intervene in any of the Council’s debates on country situations under agenda Items 4 or 10. It did however support the call for the special sessions on the situation in the Central African Republic in January 2014, together with the whole African Group, and on the conflict in Gaza in July 2014. South Africa stood out by dissociating itself from the resolution adopted during the special session on Iraq by consensus, citing the unbalanced text (a concern shared by Human Rights Watch) and the absence of transparency in the negotiations.
South Africa has justified its distance from country resolutions by arguing that it does not support the Council’s work on country-specific situations because they are highly politicized and divisive. Yet, South Africa’s voting record itself reflects such selectivity, given its willingness to engage on the Occupied Arab Territories but not on other situations. South Africa should look for other ways of addressing politicization of country debates at the Council, including by supporting attention by the Council on a broader range of situations in need of attention. South Africa should base its positions on an objective evaluation of the needs of victims and the international obligations of the government concerned.