South African Anti-Terror Bill Draconian

The following article is from Inter Press Service, and talks about a draft anti-terrorism bill in South Africa, raising another example of how around the world governments may be attempting to address terrorism, but that on the one hand they may be going too far, or using the war on terror as an excuse to concentrate power. The original location for the article can be found at

Rights-South Africa: Anti-Terror Bill Draconian
by Anthony Stoppard
Inter Press Service
June 26, 2003

JOHANNESBURG, Jun 26 (IPS) - South Africa's draft anti-terrorism legislation, which the country must put on its statute books to comply with its international commitments, has been slated as being heavy-handed and threatening human rights guaranteed in the country's constitution.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) - an independent body - trade unions and civil liberty lawyers have complained that if the proposed legislation is implemented it will infringe on the right to association, the right to legal process and expression.

The South African Parliament held public hearings on the draft legislation for a couple of weeks, until Jun. 26

As a signatory to the anti-terrorism conventions of the United Nations and the African Union (AU), South Africa is obliged to put in place legislation designed to fight the scourge.

South Africa also has fallen victim to terrorism and the government is eager to strengthen its legal arsenal against the crime.

South Africa has been rocked by bouts of terrorism, including urban attacks in the coastal city of Cape Town - widely believed to have been the work of Muslim fundamentalist groups, posing as crime-fighters, until early 2000.

And, last year, the predominately African townships of Soweto in Johannesburg were rocked by a series of bombs, allegedly set-off by conservative Whites, who wanted to destabilise the post-apartheid government. The accused are presently on trial for treason.

But, while rights groups recognise the need for the legislation, they insist that in its present form the proposed law threatens to curtail South African's human rights.

Any legislation which may curtail human rights is politically sensitive in South Africa, because the former apartheid government used similar laws to ban liberation movements and to persecute their leaders and activists, including members of the now governing party, the African National Congress (ANC).

The draft anti-terrorism legislation has been described as "unconstitutional" by human rights lawyer, George Bizos, who appeared before the Parliamentary hearing for the Legal Resources Centre this week.

Bizos is presently representing the leader of the Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai, who is on trial for treason, in Harare. Tsvangirai is challenging the government of President Robert Mugabe, who is accused by the MDC of undermining the rule of law and ignoring human rights in Zimbabwe, as he attempts to hold onto power.

Bizos, who defended Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders in the early 1960s, argued that the South African legislation is too vague in its definition of terrorism. And that the legislation could be used to stifle ordinary political protest.

The draft legislation describes terrorism as "an unlawful act, committed in or outside the Republic (of South Africa), which is a conventional offence or which is likely to intimidate the public". = 06261654 ORP013 NNNN ZCZC ORP014 QD CAT-AF SA HD ROMAIPS RIGHTS-SOUTH AFRICA: Anti-Terror Bill Draconian(2-E)

Rights activists say this definition could include ordinary political actions, like protest marches and defiance campaigns and even some strikes by workers. These tactics are often used by South African political and community organisations to support demands for social rights.

The draft law also puts such limits on access to bail for those who are arrested under the anti-terrorism legislation that they will effectively be subject to detention without trial.

While government has insisted it has no intention of using the law to obstruct normal political activity, human rights activists insist that this is not good enough - and the draft legislation must be sent back to the drawing board.

In its submission to Parliament, the 1.8-million-strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), said: "The word 'terrorism' is highly subjective, emotive and contested. (Heads of the former apartheid government) Vervoerd, Vorster and Botha all used the threat of 'terrorism' to justify their most brutal and repressive laws."

"U.S. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair also use the 'terrorist threat' to justify their invasion of Iraq. Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, routinely refers to the leader of Palestinian Liberation Organisation, Yasser Arafat, and the struggles of the Palestinians people as 'terrorist'," it said.

"If enacted in its current form the Bill is likely to make serious inroads into Constitutional rights and freedoms. The broad definition of what constitutes a 'terrorist act' poses a serious threat to our hard won democracy, allowing for legitimate mass action by workers or other social movements at some time in the future to be demonised and categorised as 'terrorist'," COSATU warned.

It said: "COSATU is bound to reject the Bill as currently drafted. It must be fundamentally amended or withdrawn and a new bill presented that would not flout the provisions of the constitution."

There is a very good chance that the legislation will be revised to take into consideration the concerns raised by rights groups.

The chairperson of the Parliamentary committee on Justice, the ANC's Johnny De Lange, told South Africa's Business Day: "We agree that some of the definitions are too wide and there are aspects that we will change. We are not idiots; the too-broad definitions are completely inadequate. What we need from submissions is to achieve the right balance to correct the serious flaws in the bill." (END/2003)

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