South Africa's Constitution (1996) enshrines the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law. Everyone in South Africa, including the government, and all laws are subject to and must follow the Constitution. The Constitution also contains the Bill of Rights , which it describes as the 'cornerstone of democracy in South Africa' and compels the State to 'respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights'. Recognising that the protection and promotion of human rights cannot be left to individuals or the government, Chapter Nine of the Constitution creates independent national institutions, subject only to the Constitution and the law, to transform our society from its unjust past and to deliver the fundamental rights in the Constitution to all in South Africa. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is one such national institution, which derives its powers from the Constitution and the Human Rights Commission Act of 1994. It is also given additional powers and responsibilities by other national legislation. Since its inauguration on 2 October 1995, the Commission has taken up the challenge of ensuring that the noble ideals expressed in our Constitution are enjoyed by all in South Africa. The SAHRC works with government, civil society and individuals, both nationally and abroad, to fulfil its Constitutional mandate.
The SAHRC is a national institution established to entrench constitutional democracy through the promotion and protection of human rights by:
1. Addressing human rights violations and seeking effective redress for such violations
2. Monitoring and assessing the observance of human rights
3. Raising awareness of human rights issues
4. Educating and training on human rights
The SAHRC is made up of two sections: the Commission, which sets out policy, and a Secretariat, which implements policy. The Chairperson is overall head, and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is head of the Secretariat, accountable for the finances of the SAHRC and has responsibility for the employment of staff. As set out in Section 5 of the Human Rights Commission Act, the SAHRC has established standing committees to advise and assist it in its work. The SAHRC appoints the members of the standing committees, each of which is chaired by a Commissioner. To facilitate the work of the Commission, the Secretariat is divided into departments : Legal Services; Research and Documentation; Education and Training; Media and Communications; Human Resources; and Finance and Administration. The SAHRC has also established provincial offices to ensure its services are widely accessible.
Functions Section 184 of The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996 specifies the functions of the South African Human Rights Commission: '(1) The Human Rights Commission must-
(a) promote respect for human rights and a culture of human rights;
(b) promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights; and
(c) monitor and assess the observance of human rights in the Republic.
(2) The Human Rights Commission has the powers, as regulated by national legislation, necessary to per- form its functions, including the power -
(a) to investigate and to report on the observance of human rights;
(b) to take steps to secure appropriate redress where human rights have been violated;
(c) to carry out research; and
(d) to educate.
(3) Each year, the Human Rights Commission must require relevant organs of state to provide the Commission with information on the measures that they have taken towards the realisation of the rights in the Bill of Rights concerning housing, health care, food, water, social security, education and the environment.
(4) The Human Rights Commission has the additional powers and functions prescribed by national legislation.' Governing Principles The governing principles of institutions to support constitutional democracy are contained in section 181 of the Constitution: '(2) These institutions are independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law, and they must be impartial and must exercise their powers and perform their functions without fear, favour or prejudice. (3) Other organs of state, through legislative and other measures, must assist and protect these institutions to ensure the independence, impartiality, dignity and effectiveness of these institutions. (4) No person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of these institutions. These institutions are accountable to the National Assembly, and must report on their activities and the performance of their functions to the Assembly at least once a year.'
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How to make a complaint to the SAHRC
The SAHRC c omplaints form must be used when applying for help from the SAHRC.
Before filling in the complaint form, please read this carefully.
When can you ask the SAHRC for help?
The SAHRC will help you if any of your rights in the Bill of Rights have been violated or abused. Check the Bill of Rights to make sure that your rights have been violated or abused. You can get a copy of the Bill of Rights from the SAHRC.
The SAHRC will usually not be able to help you where:
- your case does not involve a violation of any of the rights in the Bill of Rights;
- your problem happened before 27 April 1994 ;
- your case is a criminal case and you need a lawyer (in this case, please call the Legal Aid Board on 012 - 401 9200 or visit their offices at your closest Magistrate?s Court); or
- you have been convicted of a crime and you want to appeal.
Since there are many organisations, which deal with specific human rights violations, the SAHRC might refer your case to one of these. If this happens, SAHRC will let you know and tell you how to get in touch with this organisation.
If you are not sure whether you case is one, which the SAHRC will deal with, please contact the SAHRC at one of the addresses at the back of the Complaints form.