South Africa in the Human Rights Spotlight, Too

The 32 teams battling it out on South Africa’s soccer fields for a shot at glory aren’t the only contenders in this year’s World Cup. Amnesty International is also fielding a team of human rights defenders and joining other rights groups in examining the host country’s rights progress.

Stand Up United’s 11 team members include representatives from China, Cameroon, Iran, Kenya, Pakistan, Serbia and South Africa. It’s a powerful roster of rights advocates working on issues ranging from war crimes and extrajudicial killings, to indigenous and migrant community rights.

South Africa is expressing understandable pride over hosting the tournament for the first time on African soil. Home to one of the world’s most reviled regimes until a couple decades ago, the country was banned from participation in World Cup and Olympic events during the apartheid era.

But the country is also under scrutiny for its human rights progress. AI has drawn attention to arbitrary arrests, destruction of homes and forced displacements in the run-up to the tournament. Refugees and migrants have reportedly received the brunt of the policies. For some South Africans, the forced relocation of urban poor and homeless people in Cape Town to make room for a World Cup stadium raises memories of apartheid-era displacements, when blacks were cleared out of white-only areas.

Other groups have raised concerns over the potential for a spike in human trafficking, particularly targeting women and girls for the purpose of prostitution. South African authorities seriously considered the concerns and accelerated passage of anti-trafficking legislation earlier this year.