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Human Rights Commissioner visits Southern Africa

21.11.2014 - Article

Christoph Strässer travelled to Southern Africa for talks from 11 to 16 November. His trip took him to Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa.

Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Christoph Strässer, travelled to Southern Africa for talks from 11 to 16 November. There, he held talks in Harare (Zimbabwe), Mbabane (Swaziland) and Johannesburg (South Africa).

Zimbabwe — to what extent are fundamental rights being upheld

Together with Netty Masanhu, Executive Director of Musasa, Strässer visits one of the women’s shelters
Together with Netty Masanhu, Executive Director of Musasa, Strässer visits one of the women’s shelters© AA

In 2013, Zimbabwe adopted a constitution with a comprehensive fundamental rights charter — but its implementation has been difficult. During his visit to Harare (11‑12 November), the German Commissioner for Human Rights Policy gained an insight into the current status of the implementation of the constitution. The individual points related to important content such as the abolition of the death sentence, freedom of the press and opinion and the situation of the LGBTI community (LGBTI: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual).

The visit to the women’s shelter run by the Musasa project made a particular impression. The shelter is home to young women and girls who have been victims of sexual violence. The organisation provides women with advice, accompanies them to doctor’s visits and helps them to prepare for trials. Work which is urgently needed, according to Strässer, who above all praised the engagement of civil society in Zimbabwe.

Swaziland — supporting democratisation efforts

Swaziland is a constitutional monarchy in which the King has a special array of powers. Since 1986, King Mswati III has been Head of State. During his stay in Mbabane (13‑14 November), Mr Strässer had the opportunity to speak to various representatives of the royal family, the government and the diplomatic corps.

Swaziland — discussion with opposition member Jan Sithole
Swaziland — discussion with opposition member Jan Sithole© AA

In talks with the country’s Commission on Human Rights and civil society representatives, claims were made that the constitution was not always upheld and human rights not respected. The Commission on Human Rights complained of a lack of funding. The talk with opposition member Jan Sithole shone a light on the difficult situation of the opposition, trade unions and human rights defenders. Due to attacks, many resort to what is called “internal emigration”, refrain from speaking out in public or go into exile.

The country has been able to make progress in fighting HIV AIDS, yet it remains one of the countries worst affected by the pandemic in the world — approximately 26 percent of the population are HIV positive or have AIDS. Average life expectancy is about 50 years old. In his talks, Mr Strässer expressed his willingness to support the country’s democratisation efforts as far as possible and as much as is desired.

South Africa – prospects for European-African cooperation

Johannesburg — the memory of Nelson Mandela is kept alive all over South Africa
Johannesburg — the memory of Nelson Mandela is kept alive all over South Africa© AA

South Africa was the third and last stop on the trip made by the Federal Government’s Commissioner for Human Rights Policy. In Johannesburg he took part in the opening of a specialist conference on prospects for European‑African relations, organised by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

In his speech, Strässer appealed, amongst other things, for a new approach within European migration policy in order for it to be properly and durably equipped for the challenges of the future.

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