Newsletter 03/12

The UN and human rights protection in Syria

Addressing the UN General Assembly on 13 February 2012 on the situation in Syria, United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights and respected South African lawyer Navi Pillay declared, “Each and every member of the international community must act now to urgently protect the Syrian population” even as the city of Homs came under heavy bombardment from government artillery.
 Her appeal must not go unheeded.

South Africa’s constitution confirmed as an international example

During a visit to Egypt in January, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recommended the South African Constitution as a good example for countries to follow when establishing a new constitution. She also underscored the quality of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Debate is under way in the United States on the continued relevance of the text of the US Constitution, which dates from 1787 and is often out of step with the demands of modern democracy. The complex mechanism for electing the President of the United States is a case in point.
 In contrast, the French text of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, another product of the Enlightenment dating from 1789, remains a key reference by virtue of the clarity of the principles it lays down.  Other than introducing the principle of the separation of powers, it does not organise the functioning of government. Its object is rather to recognise fundamental human rights, which is why it has remained so effective and inspired both the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the European Convention of Human Rights dating from 1950.

The 100th anniversary of the ANC

The African National Congress, Africa’s oldest liberation movement, founded on 8 January 1912 in Bloemfontein and now the majority party in South Africa, this year celebrates an unparalleled historical journey that culminated, under Nelson Mandela, in the creation of one of the most democratic constitutions established since the founding of the United Nations.

South Africa seeks to reduce its CO2 emissions

At the UN Conference on Climate Change held in Durban at the beginning of December 2011, South Africa confirmed its determination to reduce its CO2 emissions despite its heavy reliance on coal. The aim is to reduce coal’s share of the country’s energy production from 86% to 57% by 2030. Nuclear energy will increase its share from 4% to 13% and renewables from 5% to 26%.

Road safety in France and in South Africa

France has achieved significant reductions in the number of fatal accidents on its roads. Statistics from 1973 reported 15,636 deaths for the year. The equivalent figure for 2011 was 3,973, on a par with road deaths in Great Britain. Cracking down on drink-driving with increased roadside testing has played an important role in bringing down the death toll, coupled with tougher action against speeding. 
 South Africa, too, has become increasingly aware of the problem. New measures will be introduced this year by the authorities in Gauteng province, which contains the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, and by the national government to prevent alcohol-related accidents, which currently account for over half of a death toll running at over 12,000 annually.

World Water Week 2012 focuses on effective water management in agriculture

The central theme of World Water Week, to be held this year in Stockholm in the last week of August, relates to how water is used in agriculture. 70% of the water the world uses goes into agriculture. Can this proportion be scaled back to increase the quantity of drinking water available for human use, while still continuing to develop food production? A crucial issue for the years ahead

The United States looks to France to learn more about population diversity

The United States is interested in France’s population diversity. US authorities have been organising meetings between young people in French suburbs and visits to the USA. The French model of integrating incomers from other parts of Europe, Africa and Asia can only benefit from the comparison of different experiences.

A time for recognition: builders and soldiers from the former French colonial empire

2010 marked the 50th anniversary of independence for many formerly French colonies in Africa. Reviewing those five decades proved a delicate exercise, as relations with the former colonial power are still very strong. A number of critical viewpoints were expressed at the time.
Now, in 2012, comes the 50th anniversary of Algerian independence.

The beginning of 2012 is noteworthy for a series of events and studies on the contribution made by the peoples of Africa and of the French West Indies to the development of France and to its defence by way of the armed forces.

A jointly-authored work entitled La France Noire (Editions la Découverte) compiles a remarkable series of contributions and documents on the African and Caribbean presence in metropolitan France. A television documentary, Noirs de France, broadcast on the France 5 channel, also offers an excellent piece of historical research that usefully supplements work already done on immigration from the Maghreb countries.

The role played by black African and Caribbean soldiers in helping to defend France through two world wars, a role long glossed over or minimised, is brought to light.
The release of the popular film “Indigènes” in 2006 had already gone some way to reassessing the part that troops from North Africa played in combating Nazism during the Second World War

The contribution made by Africans and Caribbeans to France’s economic, social and cultural development, particularly since the 1950s, is recognised as crucial, especially in the building & public works industry, hospitals, catering and the postal service.
It is also worth remembering that the Cubist movement, whose leading proponent in France was Picasso, was inspired by African art.
A recently published survey entitled Qui gardera nos enfants? (Caroline Ibos, Éditions Flammarion) highlights the trend for families living in the residential areas of France’s biggest cities to recruit “black childminders” to look after their children.

Elsewhere, the “Exhibitions, l’invention du sauvage” exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly (Paris 7ème), running until 3 June 2012 (, retraces the history of shows that continued to be held in the French capital until the late 1930s, in which men and women from the colonies were exhibited on stage as “exotics”.
Finally, the iconic figure of Haitian hero Toussaint Louverture, convert to the ideas of the French Revolution and adversary of Bonaparte, formed the subject of a feature-length drama aired on the France 2 TV channel (14 February 2012)

Zambia wins the African Cup of Nations

Zambia defeated Ivory Coast 8-7 in the final of the African Cup of Nations 8 in Libreville (Gabon) on 12 February 2012, following a penalty shoot-out to decide the winner after scores were level at 0-0 at full time.