International Human Rights Day 2020 statement by Executive Director Hanif Vally

We are in the unfortunate situation where in the words of the President we face three pandemics COVID-19, GBV and corruption. In addition, the checks and balances supposedly by executive and legislature have been severely compromised through reasons of party discipline and patronage. Corruption seems to have permeated large segments of our society including politics at the highest levels and opposition parties. 

It is a known fact that all societies require that there will be checks and balances to ensure that there is no abuse of power. However the concept of legislature, executive and judiciary playing this role was developed by 19th century French Philosopher Montesquiru. However the world has moved considerable since this time. There is a recognition that there has to be provision made to protect citizens and ensure that their rights are protected especially in view of the enormous power of the state in the 21st century. Hence the need to create what has been referred to as the chapter 9 institutions in South Africa is an additional checks and balance on government and a further tool for civil society. 

A serious concern is how chapter 9 institutions can be undermined by appointment of compromised persons to be responsible for them. It should be remembered that the Paris principals make specific provisions for the involvement of human rights NGO, religious, philosophical, experts and universities to be involved in the selection process in addition to parliament.

We have seen corruption at local government level whereby funds where illegally diverted by corrupt officials to VBS which where needed for basic utilities such as provision of water and sanitation. We have noted the looting of VBS by politicians from different political parties.  We have reached the astounding situation where towns across the country do not have water available. It required a charity/NGO to provide water by drilling new boreholes. 

The constitutional mandate of the SAHRC is inter alia to promote the attainment of our human rights. We know apartheid is a crime against humanity. Not only was their no respect for civil and political rights but their deprivation of the majority of South Africans in the equal enjoyment of the social economic rights has resulted in a stunt- ant population in every respect. South Africa is unenviably one of the most unequal societies in the world yet the very first clause in our constitution sets out the achievement of equality as one of our founding values. In view of the all-pervasive poverty in our country, people’s constitutional rights to dignity is not being respected. Respect for human rights is the responsibility of all of us including Civil Society Organizations. As a member of Civil Society, FHR conducted a survey on the respect for human rights during the COVID lockdown through 124 CAO across the country. We found that access to food, increased GBV, lack of access to social security and inaction by local government were most pervasive.

Under the leadership of SACC FHR and a number of CSOs wrote an open letter to government decrying the sheer depravity of the corruption taking place around the budget dedicated to the fighting of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are given meetings with the ANC Top 6 and separately with relevant government Ministers. What is clear to all of us is that the battle for the soul and future of our nation is taking place at all levels. We need to fight for the common narrative we agreed upon which contained in our Constitution and the Bill of Rights as to the kind of society we want to see. 

The interpretation of human rights as contained in our Constitution must be seen through the prism of our struggle for human rights.

We must take the nationalism that drove our struggle for freedom and convert it into a Constitutional Patriotism

The struggle for the realization of human rights must be seen through the premise of our struggle for human rights. 

Our future lies in our present!!

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