History of Foundation for Human Rights

In 1994, South Africa celebrated its first free, fair, and peaceful election. After 350 years of slavery, colonialism and apartheid, the majority of South Africans finally had a voice in the governing of the country. The new government initiated a nation-wide consultation process that led to a new Constitution promulgated through Act 108 of 1996. Chapter Nine of the Constitution created state institutions to support democracy and protect the rights of vulnerable groups. The Constitutional Court was established to oversee the interpretation of South Africa’s human rights-based Constitution and particularly the rights outlined in Chapter Two, known as the Bill of Rights. The government embarked on an ambitious programme of dismantling the apartheid legislative and policy framework.

Under apartheid, civil society organizations (CSOs) played a central role in both mitigating the effects of apartheid’s unequal development and mobilizing opposition to the apartheid state. In 1966, the United Nations General Assembly declared apartheid a crime against humanity. With growing international condemnation of the apartheid state, European governments and other international donors looked for credible local South African agencies through which to channel support. Through a provision of the financial support to the human rights and social justice organizations, the European Union (EU) and its prior structures began supporting anti-apartheid activities in South Africa in 1986.

In 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from a 27-year imprisonment for his anti-apartheid political activity. Following the establishment of the Government of National Unity in 1994, the EU committed to cooperation with the new South African government and engaged in wide-ranging consultations with NGO partners in the human rights field. These consultations found that the mere existence of a human rights-friendly Constitution did not guarantee that human rights would be promoted. The EU programme was thus designed to mobilize civil society to support statutory institutions in fulfilling their mandate to protect and promote human rights.

On 1 February 1996, former President Nelson Mandela and European Union Commissioner Professor Joao De Deus Pinheiro met at the Union Buildings in Pretoria to sign into being the European Union Human Rights Programme and to bring to life the EU Foundation for Human Rights, as it was then called. It was agreed that this Foundation should be completely independent and should have the ability to offer grants to CSOs to strengthen their capacity to promote human rights in South Africa. According to this unprecedented arrangement, the EU agreed to finance an independent Foundation to support CSOs in South Africa. Upon singing the agreement, Professor Pinheiro addressed the following statement to President Mandela:

"Mr President, in signing this Agreement today the European Union is reaffirming its deep commitment to providing concrete support for the Reconstruction and Development process in South Africa. In doing so, we are guided by your vision which has fired determination of the people in every corner of this beautiful land and given them confidence. It has lifted up their hearts and raised their hopes for new beginnings. We share with you this vision and in the message of hope you and the people of South Africa have given to people all around the world."

In 2001 the the EU Foundation for Human Rights changed its name to the Foundation for Human Rights, and a Supervisory Board independent of the EU was appointed. Between 1996 and 2007, FHR used funding from the EU to implement two major programmes, supporting more than 1400 projects across South Africa. In 2009, FHR implemented its third programme, Access to Justice and Promotion of Constitutional Rights (AJPCR). The EU allocated 21 million Euros (through a dispensation known as Sector Budget Support) to the South African Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD) to initiate the AJPCR Programme with the FHR as their implementing partner.

In December of 2014 FHR in partnership with the DoJ&CD launched its fourth programme, titled Socio-Economic Justice for All (SEJA), popularly known as AMARIGHTZA. AMARIGHTZA was developed on the foundation of the National Development Plan (NDP) Vision 2030 to promote a constitutional democracy built on the values of human dignity, equality and fundamental freedoms. The goals of the AMARIGHTZA are to facilitate the realization of socio-economic rights for vulnerable and marginalized groups, to strengthen CSOs and to encourage coordination in the social justice sector. Like the previous programmes, AMARIGHTZA is also funded by the EU through Sector Budget Support.