Human Rights High Commissioner Pillay highlights pattern of xenophobic attacks after brutal killing of Somali family in South Africa

By | 7 October 2008

Geneva – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay today condemned the murders of a Somali mother and her three children in South Africa and urged the authorities to take quick and effective measures to protect foreign migrants and refugees from any further attacks.

Sahra Omar Farah, her two teenage sons – one of whom was deaf – and her 12-year-old daughter were stabbed and bludgeoned to death last Friday in a shop run by fellow Somalis in a village in the Eastern Cape. Ms. Farah was reported to have been stabbed over 100 times. Her body was found with those of her two sons, aged 19 and 14 and her 12-year-old daughter. Initial signs suggest that both female victims may have been subjected to sexual assaults.

“I strongly condemn these murders of a defenceless family, apparently simply because they were foreigners” said High Commissioner of Human Rights Navi Pillay. “Xenophobic attacks unfortunately occur regularly in quite a few countries, but this is one of the most vicious examples we have heard of recently, outside of war zones. Somalia is currently in a deplorable state, with conflict raging – especially in Mogadishu, where this family is believed to have come from – and there is huge displacement and suffering. To find safe haven in a country like South Africa, only to be brutally murdered a short while later, is beyond tragic.”

Pillay noted that Somali traders and shop-keepers have been a particular target for attack in recent years, with another three Somali shopkeepers murdered since last Friday in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth.

“There appears to be a dangerous pattern of targeted attacks on foreigners, especially, but not exclusively, involving Somalis,” Pillay said. She welcomed the arrest of three suspects in the attack, but added that a concerted and long-term effort by the authorities was necessary to deter others from resorting to xenophobic violence.

In May of this year, tensions related to the large-scale influx of migrants and refugees into South Africa from elsewhere on the continent boiled over into several days of attacks on foreigners that left over 60 people dead and more than 15,000 displaced, many of whom have subsequently remained in camps.

“That was a shocking indication of how bad the situation had become,” Pillay said. “And the string of killings over the past few days is a stark reminder that a lot of work remains to be done. The authorities should take particular care not to place those still in camps after the May violence back into dangerous situations.” It seems Ms. Farah and her family had been in one of the camps in Cape Town, before being relocated to the Eastern Cape.

On Monday, just before learning of the murders, Pillay addressed a preparatory meeting for a review conference next April that will examine progress since the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa. In her opening statement, she told government delegations that “racism, xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance are problems that occur shamefully on a daily basis across the world,” and called for a more concerted effort by states to act on promises to tackle these “odious practices.”

For media inquires and interview requests, please contact OHCHR Spokesperson Rupert Colville:
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