ActionAid South Africa and CIEL call on special rapporteur John Knox to investigate human rights violations on South African Women


February 2, 2017

Washington, DC — At the end of October, ActionAid South Africa and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) submitted a request for investigation regarding the situation of women in the Mpumalanga region of South Africa to United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment John Knox.

The Mpumalanga region has a large number of coalmines and related mining activities that negatively impact the lives of people in the region and undermine their ability to realize their human rights.  These activities disproportionately affect women and girls.  The request for investigation outlines the ongoing negative impacts being felt by women and girls and the role of the South African government in sanctioning these activities.

As stated in the request for investigation, mining has polluted water, diminished arable land, and contributed to air pollution in the Mpumalanga region, which creates an unhealthy environment for an already poor and vulnerable community. Additionally, it is leading to increased sexual violence against women and girls. The acute impacts women and girls in the region have faced is reflected in their own testimonies in “Living Next to the Mine: Women’s struggles in mining affected communities,” published by ActionAid in January 2017.

“Women have faced profound hardships and human rights violations as a result of mining in the area, and as of yet, they have not been able to get recourse for these harms,” said Carla García Zendejas, Senior Attorney at CIEL. “Mining often has harmful impacts on local communities, particularly on the most vulnerable. An investigation by the Special Rapporteur could go a long way in ensuring these women and others have access to justice when their rights are threatened.”

Fatima Vally, Project Manager at ActionAid South Africa, explains that the current mining and extractive models in South Africa not only perpetuate and exacerbate historical inequalities, but also go further in entrenching gender disparity. “Women are forced to contend with systemic discrimination pervasive in and emblematic of the industry. Women in marginalized communities are most exposed and often bamboozled out of their only resources like water and land by big development projects, ultimately compromising their livelihoods and violating their human rights,” says Vally.

John Knox was appointed as Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment in August 2012; his mandate was extended in March 2015. As part of his mandate, the Special Rapporteur must “promote and report on the realization of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment” and “work on identifying challenges and obstacles to the full realization of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and protection gaps thereto, including in the context of sustainable development.”


Notes to Editors:

Read the full letter to the Special Rapporteur here.


Amanda Kistler, Communications Director, CIEL:, +001.202.742.5832


ActionAid South Africa

ActionAid South Africa is a member of ActionAid International, a global movement of people working together to further human rights and eradicate poverty.

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

Since 1989, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has used the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society.