Hate crimes petition handed to SA Justice Department

Thousands of people have called on South Africa’s Department of Justice to submit the long-pending hate crimes bill to Cabinet.

On Wednesday, the Hates Crimes Working Group (HCWG) together with AllOut delivered a petition signed by 21 519 individuals to the department, calling for the bill to be moved forward.

It has been over a year since the public last saw the bill, which was sent out for public comment in November 2016.

“Based on the severity of the psychological and emotional impact of hate crime, far beyond the individual victim, we simply cannot wait any longer,” said Sanja Bornman, attorney at Lawyers for Human Rights and chairperson of the HCWG steering committee.

“The HCWG, and the thousands of people who signed this petition, urge Minister Masutha to submit the hate crimes bill to Cabinet, so the law-making process can start.”

Matt Beard, Executive Director of AllOut, added, “There is a still a long way to go before it becomes law, but the fact that it will be submitted to Parliament is an important step in the fight against hate crimes against LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups in South Africa.”

The Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill will allow judges to consider prejudice, bias or intolerance (such as on the basis of race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation, among others) in a crime as an aggravating factor in the sentencing of perpetrators.

The bill further tasks the police and prosecutors to include consideration of hate bias in their investigations and prosecutions. They will also be responsible for the “effective monitoring, analysis of trends and interventions and to provide quantitative and qualitative data” on hate crimes.

These statistics would allow the authorities and civil society groups to better understand and monitor the scale, severity and kinds of hate crimes committed in South Africa.

The bill controversially additionally seeks to criminalise hate speech, a provision not supported by many activists, including the HCWG, who believe it is too broad and unconstitutional and that there are already sufficient provisions in the law to deal with hate speech.

In its recently-launched research report, the HCWG documented 945 cases highlighting the serious nature of hate crime and the significant impact it has on victims, families, and the broader community. The report provides recommendations for monitoring, preventing and responding to hate crime, including legislation.

The LGBT community was found to be among the most vulnerable to hate crimes. At the time the study was being conducted, investigations on only 62 cases had been completed and there had been only 16 convictions that included hate motives.

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