The Apartheid Convention

On the 27th February 1979 the United Nations Economic and Social Council (Unesco) released a report entitled “Implementation of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid”. The ‘Apartheid Convention’ (or ICSPCA), which came into force in 1976, was ratified by twenty countries, namely Benin, Bulgaria, Belarus, Chad, Czechoslovakia, Ecuador, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Guinea, Hungary, Iraq, Mongolia, Poland, Qatar, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine, the USSR, the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania and Yugoslavia.

A number of other countries have become signatories to the Convention over the years, even after the fall of apartheid in South Africa  – the Convention does not limit itself only to racial segregation in South Africa – yet a number of prominent western democracies have never signed nor ratified the ICSPCA. These countries include Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. In explanation of the USA’s vote against the Convention in 1973, Ambassador Clarence Clyde Ferguson Jr. was quoted as saying:

We cannot accept that apartheid can in this manner be made a crime against humanity. Crimes against humanity are so grave in nature that they must be meticulously elaborated and strictly construed under existing international law.

One can only imagine that Ambassador Ferguson was ignorant when he spoke these words, as the 1979 Unesco report on the subject clearly shows how heinous the apartheid regime was, and history has shown us how systematic and well planned the efforts of the National Party was in its subjugation of non-white people.

Press Conference by the Chairman of the Special Committee Against Apartheid, 21st March 1983

Press Conference by the Chairman of the Special Committee Against Apartheid, 21st March 1983

The 1979 report, which was presented by the Special Committee against Apartheid, was in essence a study of the torture and murder of political detainees in South Africa, providing a list of the accused, as well as their victims. Accused number one, as per the report, is listed jointly as the ‘Natal Inland Division, Pietermaritzburg’, and the ‘Port Natal Division, Security Police, Durban’, and details torture carried out by police between the years 1975 and 1977. The Fisher Street Security Branch appears three times in the report in relation to the torture of trade unionists Harold Bekisisa Nxasana and William Fans Khanyile, as well as Russell Maphanga. There are certainly other prisoners, such as Joseph Mdluli, who is named in the report as a murder victim, who will have spent time at Fisher Street.

Below is an excerpt from the report, which relates to the detention of William Khanyile (please note that this material may upset sensitive readers):

He was made to strip until he was naked. He was then compelled to assume a half squatting position with his hands extended in front and thereupon he was assaulted by being repeatedly struck with fists and batons, and when he fell, by being kicked with shod feet and forced to stand up again. After that a sheet was wrapped around his head and neck and twisted until he was partially suffocated and in severe pain. This caused him to lose consciousness. When he recovered he found that he had urinated and defecated. They then made him clear up the mess and remove the excrement. They threatened to kill him unless he told them everything. He was once again severely assaulted with fists on his face. He cannot remember how long this went on, but after a while the torture stopped.

They decided to take him down to the third floor of the same building and there the torture was resumed. Once again he was severely assaulted with fists on his head and face and at some stage his ear drum was permanently injured. Once again a sheet was wrapped around his head and neck and twisted. Again he was partially suffocated and in very severe pain. This process was repeated a number of times over a continuous period on the day and night of his arrest for over thirteen hours.

He was not allowed a change of clothing for three weeks. Virtually every day he was shown statements allegedly made by other detainees and he was threatened that unless he also talked he will be taken back to “night interrogation”. This was a reference to the severe torture on the first night of his detention.”

The report is signed off as follows:

The Special Committee trusts that the Commission on Human Rights will study the attached report and take urgent action in accordance with the International Convention.

To date no one in South Africa has ever been prosecuted in terms of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

Image courtesy of legal.un.org

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