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Media Centre  |  COSATU Press Statements

COSATU statement on the Anti-Terrorism Bill [B12/2003]

25 June 2003

COSATU has submitted comments on the Anti- Terrorism Bill, currently being considered by the Portfolio Committee on Safety and Security in Parliament. The submission is available on our web site - www.cosatu.org.za

Significantly, it was exactly 48 years ago, on 26 June 1955, that people from all corners of our country came to Kliptown to sign the Freedom Charter. It became the textbook for the liberation struggle in which millions fought and thousands sacrificed their lives.

The Freedom Charter is particularly strong on human rights, declaring: "All shall be equal before the law" and "All shall enjoy Human Rights!" It was drafted when the vicious apartheid state machinery was being strengthened and consolidated, with laws to allow arbitrary arrest, imprisonment without trial, torture and even murder to silence its opponents. The democratic movement was clear that there must be no such abuse of human rights in the liberated South Africa.

The Freedom Charter demanded that no one should be imprisoned, deported or restricted without a fair trial, or condemned by the order of any Government official. It declared that the law shall guarantee to all their right to speak, organise, meet toget her, publish, preach, worship and educate their children, and that the privacy of the house from police raids shall be protected by law.

Many of these rights are now enshrined in our Constitution, which overturned the repressive structures set up under apartheid.

In contrast, the draft Anti-Terrorism Bill conflicts with virtually every demand in the Freedom Charter's section on democratic rights.

We acknowledge the responsibility and obligation of the government to give effect to the relevant United Nations, Non-Aligned Movement and African Union's conventions, protocols and resolutions relating to terrorism. The citizens of South Africa have a right to safety and rightly expect the government to protect them from acts of terrorism. We have good grounds for fearing terrorism, as was underscored most recently by the rightwing bombings in Soweto.

In its current form, however, the Anti-Terrorism Bill is likely to erode the human rights established in the Freedom Charter and our Constitution, without adequately targeting the perpetrators of violent acts. Even the word "terrorism" is highly subje ctive, emotive and contested. Vervoerd, Vorster and Botha all used the threat of "terrorism" to justify their most brutal and repressive laws. Bush and Blair also use the "terrorist threat" to justify their invasion of Iraq. Ariel Sharon the Prime Min ister of Israel routinely refer to the leader of PLO, Yasser Arafat, and the struggles of the Palestinians people as "terrorist."

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 'errorist'. For example the bill defines any activity that might result in the "disruption of essential public services" as a 'terrorist' a ct. For unions in the public sector, this is a worryingly vague clause. Would the threatened wildcat strike in Johannesburg's emergency services be classed as "terrorism"?

Accordingly, COSATU is bound to reject the Bill as currently drafted. To maintain the democratic gains of the past nine years, it must be fundamentally amended or withdrawn and a new bill presented that would not flout the provisions of the Freedom Cha rter.

Prior to the enactment of new security legislation, a comprehensive review of existing security legislation should be conducted to assess compliance with the Constitution, the adequacy of existing legislation to deal with legitimate concerns about thre ats posed to public safety and the extent to which reform is required.

Taking into account the wide ranging human rights implications and political significance of the Bill, we believe that such a review should be conducted by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and should involve a Parliamentary Committee s pecially set up for that purpose.

Accordingly, we are calling for the withdrawal of the Bill and the suspension of the current Parliamentary process pending the outcome of the proposed review.

Patrick Craven
Acting COSATU Spokesperson

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