South Africa: violent police action against asylum seekers and protestors must be investigated

The ICJ today expressed its grave concern at the conduct of police forces in their enforcement of a court order to remove refugees and asylum seekers from the offices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cape Town on October 30.

Police appeared to be using excessive and unlawful force, resulting in injuries to some protestors.

 The ICJ called for a prompt independent, impartial, and through investigation into the police conduct, with a view to holding account officials responsible for any ill-treatment and to prevent such methods of policing to recur.

While trying to remove largely peaceful protestors from the premises, police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades against refugees who were protesting in the streets of Cape Town last week. A video clip widely shared on social media showed police ripped a baby from a woman.

The court had granted an interdict to remove the group in Cape Town on October 18 at the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court following an application by the building landlord to evict the group. More than 100 protestors were arrested and released on warnings.

“The way refugees were treated in Cape Town on Wednesday is shameful.  South African authorities should be acting to protect migrants from the xenophobic violence and threats they have been experiencing, not to perpetuate them,” said Arnold Tsunga, ICJ Africa regional director.

Refugees and asylum seekers had staged a sit-in outside the UNHCR offices in Cape Town and Pretoria for four weeks now, pleading to be resettled outside of South Africa, claiming that they felt unsafe. They said that recent attacks on foreign nationals left them feeling unsafe in South Africa. (Read the ICJ statement on the attacks here.)

In a statement, the UNHCR said the organization had received concerns of personal safety, access to documentation, challenges accessing services, and lack of job opportunities from the asylum seekers and refugees who had been camping outside of its offices.

The statement also indicated that some of the protesting group had demanded resettlements, which were only available for a limited number of vulnerable refugees. The UNHCR said it had been engaging with the refugees and asylum seekers since the protests began, encouraging them to participate in constructive dialogue to address their grievances and find a peaceful resolution to the situation.

“We call on South African authorities the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to urgently address migrants’ concerns in a constructive and amicable manner before the situation escalates further,” Tsunga added.


South African law and international law forbid the unnecessary and disproportionate use of force and protect people from ill-treatment. .

The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Standards provides that law enforcement officials must use restraint and may use force only where only where strictly necessary, and any such force must be proportionate to the legitimate object, such as making a lawful arrest and protecting the lives and safety of others.

South Africa is party of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which guaranteed from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, including that resulting from unlawful use of force.


Arnold Tsunga (Director):                                   c: +26 37 7728 3249  e: [email protected]

Shaazia Ebrahim (Media Officer):                     c: +27 71 670 6719    e: [email protected]