CFCR Celebrates World Refugee Day
CFCR CELEBRATES WORLD REFUGEE DAY
Adv Johan Kruger, Centre for Constitutional Rights
On 4 December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly declared 20 June as World Refugee Day to highlight the plight of refugees who continue to leave their home countries not by choice, but due to armed conflict and political persecution.
In celebrating World Refugee Day, the Centre for Constitutional Rights, in the spirit of our Constitution, calls on the government and all South Africans to instil and pursue tolerance and respect for fundamental rights, as enshrined in international law and our Constitution.
South Africa became a State Party to both the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its supplementary 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, following accession thereto in 1996. Giving effect to Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, these international instruments create the international legal framework for the protection of refugees by, amongst others, recognising the right of persons to seek asylum in other countries when persecuted in their own countries, defining the term "refugee", determining the rights of refugees and specifying legal obligations of States Parties. The Convention also provides for the establishment of minimum standards for the treatment of refugees. The Convention, however, does not apply to individuals for whom there are serious reasons to believe that they have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, serious non-political crimes or are guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. There is certainly no reason or justification to confer refugee-status upon the latter individuals.
In terms of our Constitution, South Africa is bound by its international obligations - including obligations in terms of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol. The government thus has a duty to receive, protect and treat refugees in a humane manner as required by the Convention. Moreover, our Constitution and its Bill of Rights provide for the protection of the rights of everyone in South Africa - including refugees - meaning that everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. This of course also means that everyone in South Africa must abide by the law once in South Africa.
It is, nevertheless, the constitutional duty of our government and all South Africans alike to respect the rights of refugees in South Africa and by doing so, promote the values - including tolerance, respect and consideration - that underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom. In claiming our rights enshrined in our Constitution, we have to respect the rights of others - especially the rights of those who are vulnerable and who seek our help and protection from injustices and inhumanity perpetrated against them in their own countries.
Published in: Centre for Constitutional Rights