According to United Nations statistics South Africa accounted for one fifth of the world’s asylum applications, registering a staggering 180 600 applications in 2010 alone, making South Africa the most sought after destination for asylum seekers in the world. Not every one of those persons would have been successful; in fact, if South Africa’s immigration authorities did their job properly, some would have been turned  away, the deserving would be allowed to stay and some would have been found to be ineligible. With regard to ineligibility, South Africa is, under international refugee law,  prohibited from extending protections to persons if there is reason to believe that he or she has been involved in the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. This prohibition is contained in the exclusion provisions, found in virtually every domestic refugee act around the world, and is perhaps a country’s first line of defence against becoming a safe haven for international offenders.

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The Public Interest Law Gathering held at Wits University from 11-13 July 2012 was a collaborative event, hosted by a number of highly respected and committed human rights organisations.  SALC was one of the host organisations and also presented two panels: one on ‘Litigating Against Loitering Laws: protecting the rights of marginalised populations’ and another on South Africa’s international criminal law obligations. The international criminal law presentation discussed potential prosecutions of international crimes both in South Africa and abroad. This was particularly topical, coming soon after the North Gauteng High Court declared that South African officials were obliged to investigate certain allegations of crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe. The key question was what the implications of legal action in countries other than where the crimes were committed – an ‘exporting’ of jurisdiction – were for South Africa. Read the rest of this entry »


The AU Summit is under way in Ethiopia. After the last minute change of venue, following Malawi’s refusal to host ICC indictee Omar al-Bashir, international justice will certainly be on the agenda. The heads of state will also decide  whether to adopt a protocol that will expand the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights to include international criminal jurisdiction and a draft model law on universal jurisdiction will also be discussed. This Summit may also usher in new leadership with South Africa’s Dlamini-Zuma vying for the position of AU Chairperson. This is certainly a Summit to watch, the outcomes of which have the potential to change the legal and political landscape in relation to international criminal justice on the continent.

Against this backdrop African civil society organisations have written to African states calling on them to strengthen their support for international justice and accountability. Read the letter below

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Today the North Gauteng High Court dismissed an application for leave to appeal against the judgment delivered in Southern African Litigation Centre and Another v National Director of Public Prosecutions and Others by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) South African police (SAPS).

You’ll remember that last month the High Court ruled in SALC’s favour when it found that the NPA and SAPS’ decision not to initiate an investigation into crimes against humanity committed in Zimbabwe was unlawful because they failed to take into consideration South Africa’s international obligations in terms of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and domestic legislation giving effect to these obligations. The NPA and SAPS were therefore ordered to initiate an investigation. They challenged this decision on a number of grounds, all of which were dismissed, and Judge Hans Fabricius concluded that an appeal held no reasonable prospects of success.

Read the press release below:

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ImageSALC and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum are thrilled to announce that the North Gauteng High Court ruled in SALC’s favour in the Zimbabwe Torture Case. Judge Hans Fabrius ruled that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) failed to take South Africa’s international criminal law obligations into account when they refused to initiate an investigation into crimes against humanity committed in Zimbabwe, despite SALC providing credible information in this regard. The NPA and SAPS must now revisit their initial decision in accordance with the detailed order of the Court. 

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At the end of March the North Gauteng High Court reserved judgment in SALC’s landmark torture case in which SALC and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum asked the High Court to set aside a decision of South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority and police service not to investigate and prosecute high level Zimbabwean officials accused of torture. The case, the first to be brought in terms of South Africa’s domestic Rome Statute Act, raises important questions about the content and nature of South Africa’s obligations to investigate and prosecute international crimes. Although the judgment is only expected in May 2012, the issues raised certainly provide food for thought. 

In this regard, Christopher Gevers of the University of Kwazulu Natal provides an excellent analysis of the case through the lense of universal jurisdiction on EJIL:Talk, the European Journal of International Law blog.

 The blog post is titled The Application of Universal Jurisdiction in South African Law and to wet your appetite, this is Gevers’ overall impression of the case:

Having witnessed the judge’s handling of the case, I would certainly not characterize him as a shrinking violet, quite the contrary. Equally so, it was clear that he had a complete and considerable grasp of all of the complex issues raised by the parties, as well as the significance of the case both from the perspective of the victims, and its broader context. All this augurs well for those of us looking for a wide-ranging, precedent-setting judgment fitting of the inaugural judicial pronouncement on South Africa’s ICC Act.”



On 26 March 2012 SALC and the Zimbabwean Exiles Forum (ZEF) will go to court to argue that South Africa, through the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the South African Police Services (SAPS), is required in terms of both international and South African law, to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of international crimes.

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Last month, SALC together with the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants Rights in South Africa (CoRMSA) initatiated legal proceedings against the South African authorities to review their decision to grant former Rwandan General, Kayumbe Nyamwasa, refugee status. And today another twist in this saga occurred. South African newspaper, the Business Day reported that  the South African “government is negotiating the handover of alleged Rwandan war criminal and former general Kayumba Nyamwasa to a ‘neutral country'”.  Still to be confirmed and rather scant on details, this move certainly raises a number of questions. If done properly this move may even warrant reluctant commendation. See SALC’s views here.

South Africa, along with Russia, Brazil, and to some extent India, is currently blocking a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution calling on Syria to end its violent crackdown against pro-democracy protestors. In response, a delegation of leading Syrian human rights activists is visiting South Africa, in order to meet with government officials to try to change South Africa’s stance.

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Did you know that this past week South Africa has been in Sri Lanka? It has been attending an international conference, misleadingly titled “Defeating Terrorism: The Sri Lankan experience”. The conference purports to celebrate Sri Lanka’s defeat of the LTTE  – Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam  – the supposed terrorists. Sounds good, right? Wrong. You see, whilst Sri Lanka vehemently believes its victory to be a feather in the cap in its fight against terrorism; the United Nations however sees a conflict characterised by impunity and the disregard for international law. This begs the questions, should South Africa be in Sri Lanka, and what should be made of its attendance?

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