[PRESS RELEASE] LHR expresses its concern over the announcement by the Cabinet Justice cluster of Operation Fiela II

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) expresses its concern over the announcement on Friday (19 January 2018) by the Cabinet Justice cluster of Operation Fiela II.  Operation Fiela I, which took place during heightened xenophobic tensions in 2015, created an environment of fear and saw widespread human rights abuses by police, military and immigration officials.  Use of military words like “Operation” – is reminiscent of “state of emergency” under apartheid, when the rule of law was suspended and repression and force was used to counter political opposition.

Of particular concern during Fiela I was the use of the military to arrest people in the middle of the night at the Fatti’s Mansions building in the Johannesburg CBD. LHR has serious concerns with use of the military to arrest people who are undocumented. This operation saw the arrest and detention of over 200 people and required two urgent court orders before lawyers were allowed to consult with those arrested.   The military declined to continue with the operation after July 2015. 

LHR brought a high court application to challenge the authorisation for the operation at the Fatti’s Mansions. While the court dismissed the application for lack of urgency, our research showed evidence of arbitrary arrests and widespread damage to property.  Doors were busted in and windows broken.  Some residents reported that their possessions and money were taken from their flats while they were being “processed”. 

Throughout the operation, non-nationals were particularly targeted by the state – at a time shortly after the spate of violent xenophobic attacks in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Thus, the operation propagated the perception that predominantly black foreigners are criminals, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Details have not been provided and no consultation seems to have taken place with community leaders.  LHR fears that Operation Fiela II will simply be a repeat of the wide net cast during Fiela I, using foreign nationals as scapegoats for crime in the inner city and further perpetuating xenophobic attitudes and hostilities. While effective policing is a right of all who call South Africa their home, targeting non-nationals is not an effective way to dealing with crime.  This type of action not only creates animosity, it creates yet another environment where xenophobia and violence can rear its head.  The wording of the government announcement that Fiela II will address “the safety concerns of the citizens of the country” echoes the same xenophobic and exclusionary process which took place in 2015. It is these sentiments and processes which perpetuate the belief that undocumented people are the cause of crime, fueling the hatred that is witnessed in violence targeting black foreign nationals.

It is the experience of LHR, through its work with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, that in the policing of foreign nationals, the police has made itself guilty of gross physical and emotional abuses, bribery and corruption. 

Crime is serious problem which affects people living in under-resourced and impoverished communities the most.

The approach of random arbitrary military style operations also does not deal with the imbalance of policing in poor communities.  LHR takes note of the research done by the Social Justice Coalition and the unequal allocation of daily policing resources to poor communities.  Neglecting adequate police resources with a temporary operation does not create safe neighbourhoods.

 

LHR calls on the government to consult with stakeholders in the community, particularly community leadership and organizations representing non-nationals, to create more effective relationships with the police.  Through equal policing and good crime intelligence gathering, everyone can contribute to building safe and peaceful communities.We need to build a society where law enforcement and crime prevention does not target the poorest and most vulnerable, but addresses all forms of crime and does so in an equitable and consistent manner and that respects the human rights and human dignity of all. 

 

For More information please contact Carol Mohlala, Media and Communications Manager on 079 2389826 or 012 320 2943 OR Sharon Ekambaram, Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme Manager on 011 3391960