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Understanding the South African Human Rights Commission

The South African Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.


The Commission was inaugurated on 02 October 1995 under the Human Rights Commission Act 54 of 1994 and as provided for by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993.

The Constitution is the highest law in the country and it was adopted to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. These rights are listed in the Bill of Rights, in Chapter 2 of the Constitution.

Champion for the realisation of Human Rights

The Commission is established to support constitutional democracy and attainment of the
progressive realisation of human rights by:

Organisational values
The Commission adheres to the following values of ubuntu:
a)  Dignity;
b)  Equality;
c)  Respect; and
d)  Accountability.

Organisational structure
The South African Human Rights Commission is made up of Commissioners and a Secretariat. Commissioners provide strategic leadership and direct policy. They are appointed by Parliament on a seven-year term and can be reappointed to an additional term.
The concept of human rights was promoted through education and training, community outreach and public awareness campaigns. Highlights in 2009/10 included the following:

Human Rights Month
Maintaining and establishing an accessible and transparent human rights environment is critical to the promotion of respect for, and the establishment of, a culture of human rights. To this end, the Commission engaged the media and the government on a number of human rights concerns, such as the following:

To facilitate the human rights agenda at the regional, national and international levels, the Commission made legislative submissions pertaining to human rights issues in the areas of human trafficking, domestic violence, child justice and service delivery.

Promotion of the Protection, Development and Attainment of Human Rights
The Commission’s mandate to protect human rights in South Africa is achieved through a process of complaints management, which allows the Commission to seek redress on behalf of complainants whose rights have been violated. The complaints management system used by the Commission provided some challenges, which led to a manual system being used simultaneously to ensure that the statistics were complete and accurate. A plan is now in place to address the system’s challenges as part of a review of the Commission’s IT applications in the 2010/11 financial year. The review will include the mapping out of processes which should allow the Commission to reassess its complaints procedures and regulations in order to align them with the complaints management processes.

Monitoring and Assessment of the Observance of Human Rights
The observance and assessment of human rights is monitored using a number of mechanisms that culminate annually in the Human Rights Development Report (HRDR) and the Economic and Social Rights (ESR) report. The highlights of the year included the following:

The development of these monitoring tools will enable the Commission to assess progress in the observance of human rights in all the portfolios.

Reporting to Parliament on the PAIA and PEPUDA Statutes
The Commission is required to report to Parliament on its legislative obligations in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 (PAIA) and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000 (PEPUDA). This mandate is not funded separately and resources are limited, which affects the Commission’s ability to meet its obligations on the two statutes.

14 March 2011