The South African Human Rights Commission

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

Human rights
Human rights are the basic rights that everyone has, simply because they are human. (Image: Brand South Africa)

Brand South Africa reporter

What are human rights?

Human rights are the basic rights that everyone has, simply because they are human. The list of human rights protected in South Africa is contained in the Bill of Rights, Chapter 2 of the South African Constitution, the highest law in our country.

What are human rights violations?

If someone ignores or abuses your rights, it is called a violation of those rights. For example, if someone treats a person differently because of his or her race, gender, age or ethnic group, that person’s right to equality is being abused or violated.

What does the Commission do?

In accordance with the Constitution and the Human Rights Commission Act of 1994, the tasks of the Human Rights Commission are to:

  • Develop an awareness of human rights among the people of South Africa.
  • Make recommendations to the state to improve the carrying out of human rights.
  • Undertake studies and report to Parliament on matters relating to human rights.
  • Investigate complaints of violations of human rights and seek appropriate relief.

The Commission works with government, civil society and individuals, both in South Africa and internationally, acting as both a watchdog and a visible route through which people can access their rights.

While the handling and management of complaints about human rights violations lies at the heart of the Commission’s work, it also aims to create a national culture of human rights through its advocacy, research and legal functions. In addition, the Commission monitors and develops standards of human rights law.

What does the Commission investigate?

The Commission investigates alleged violations of or threats to a fundamental right. It can do this on its own accord, or in response to a complaint laid by the public.

What won’t the Commission investigate?

The Commission has no jurisdiction to deal with complaints regarding to events that happened before 27 April 1994. It also does not investigate:

  • Complaints based solely on hearsay, rumour or media reports; or one that is viewed to be frivolous, misconceived or incomprehensible.
  • An anonymous complaint.
  • A complaint that is subject of a dispute before a court.
  • Complaints that are lodged more than three years after the alleged violation occurred.

Complaining to the Commission

You must lodge the complaint in the province where the alleged violation took place. You can do so personally or on behalf of another person or group, and you may request confidentiality.

Once your complaint has been accepted, an investigator will be appointed within seven days and you’ll be contacted to confirm details.

The Commission’s structure

The Human Rights Commission is made up of the commission, which sets out policy, and a secretariat, which implements policy. The chairperson is overall head, and there are up to 10 other commissioners, each responsible for a particular aspect of human rights – children, disability, civil rights, etc – as well as for a South African region.

Commissioners are appointed by Parliament on a seven-year term, and can be reappointed for an additional term.

Source: South African Human Rights Commission

Reviewed February 2014

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