Sustaining the Struggle for Human Rights

Given the current political and socio-economic context in our country, the FHR has an ongoing role to play in sustaining the struggle for human rights in South Africa and in the region. We have designed a new human rights programme which, drawing on our extensive experience, strengths and expertise, focuses on human rights issues that require urgent attention and that remain close to our heart. The following rights-based issues will be our focus going forward:

Gender-based Violence​

Gender-based violence remains an emergency that must be urgently addressed. The FHR supports CSOs and the government in their efforts to prevent and adequately respond to gender-based violence.

Gender-based violence remains one of the biggest problems in South Africa. Characterized by gender inequality and deeply rooted in discriminatory patriarchal practices, it constitutes a systematic violation of human rights. The most recent crime statistics, released in 2020 show that murder, rape and sexual offences remain a serious concern. The FHR is committed to reducing and eliminating gender-based violence within our communities. Towards this end the FHR has invested in and continues to support programmes aimed at: 

  • Strengthening the capacity of civil society;
  • building partnership and solidarity within the sector nationally and regionally;
  • strengthening the government response to violations;
  • shifting cultural norms to empower women and girls, and
  • promoting constitutional awareness of fundamental human rights.
Access to Justice

Improving access to justice for the marginalized and disadvantaged remains essential to addressing the inequalities of the past. The FHR promotes improved access to justice, in particular through its support to community-based advice (CAO) sector.

In South Africa access to justice is not limited to the provision of legal remedies and procedural justice in a court of law, but encompasses the legal empowerment of individuals and communities, in particular those who are marginalized and disadvantaged. As poverty, unemployment and inequality remain the biggest threat to South Africa’s democracy, improving access to justice is essential for dealing with these challenges and ensuring human development. At the FHR, we promote access to justice primarily through our flagship programme for community-based advisory offices (CAOs). The CAO sector will remain the focus of our future programme and we will continue our support through:

  • Grant-making; 
  • mobilization of CAOs;
  • technical assistance through research and policy development (e.g. support for the regulatory framework for the CAOs);
  • capacity building, and
  • promoting local democracies.
Rights of Vulnerable Groups

There are groups that require special protection for the equal and effective enjoyment of their human rights. FHR promotes and advocates for the rights of these vulnerable groups.

There are particular groups who, for various reasons, are vulnerable or have traditionally been victims of human rights violations, and consequently require special protection for the equal and effective enjoyment of their human rights. These groups are also often structurally discriminated against and have difficulties defending themselves. The FHR’s focuses on supporting the following vulnerable groups: women and girls; children; refugees, including migrants and domestic workers; disabled persons; farm workers and farm dwellers; elderly persons, and HIV positive persons. Over the years, the FHR has established networks of civil society organizations working on this subject. The FHR will continue:

  • Designing campaigns and advocating for the rights of vulnerable groups;
  • mobilizing civil society around important human rights issues affecting vulnerable groups;
  • raising awareness about rights of these groups, and
  • holding government to account for failing to realize its commitments.
The Rights of LGBTIQ+ People

The LGBTIQ+ people continue to face high levels of violence and discrimination in South Africa. The FHR works with government and civil society to promote and advocate for the rights of LGBTIQ+ people.

The LGBTIQ+ people continue to face high levels of violence and discrimination in South Africa, including so-called ‘corrective’ rape, assault and murder, with a very low rate of incident reporting. LGBTIQ+ people also face discrimination from within their local communities as well as from their families, resulting in relatively high suicide rates for younger LGBTIQ+ people. The key to overcoming these issues is close cooperation and trust between government, LGBTIQ+ people and civil society organizations. This has been our primary strategy in relation to implementing the LGBTIQ+ activities. Going forward, the FHR will focus on:

  • Supporting the LGBTIQ+ National Task Team (NTT) and Rapid Response Team (RRT) in various national projects;
  • assisting with capacity-building for government service providers;
  • grant-making, and
  • providing technical assistance through research and policy development.
Environmental Justice and Climate Change​

South Africa has been affected by climate change and faces a serious environmental challenge. The FHR will work with partners to promote and advocate for environmental justice.

The world is facing a catastrophic environmental challenge predominantly brought about by human activity. Drastic and rapid changes in climate conditions have a direct impact on basic human rights, particularly the rights of vulnerable and marginalized communities. Historically, countries in the Global South have contributed least to climate change but are most severely affected by it, experiencing consequences such as forced migration and water and food shortages. The FHR’s climate and environmental justice interventions will focus on:

  • Advocacy at the community level;
  • provision of technical expertise through research and policy development;
  • constitutional education;
  • addressing accountability for environmental crimes;
  • mobilizing civil society, and
  • building partnerships.
Food Sovereignty

South Africa continues to face a serious water and food crisis. The FHR will focus its interventions on promoting and advocating for food sovereignty.

Closely linked to the issues of environmental rights and climate change, is the issue of the food sovereignty. The South African Constitution (Section 27(1)) stipulates that everyone has a right to have access to food and water. Although the government has implemented a number of programmes that address these issues, they have not been sufficient and have not rendered the expected results. Recurring drought, coupled with corporate-controlled food systems, has affected agriculture, in particular crops and livestock production, contributing to the rising prices of food in South Africa and worsening the food crisis in the country. This situation is likely to be exacerbated post-Covid-19. In response to this, the FHR will focus its interventions on:

  • Advocacy and civil society mobilization around the localization of food production, an established food sovereignty policy;
  • research and policy development in the areas of food crisis and ethical pricing;
  • grant-making, and
  • facilitating the interaction between community-based advice offices (CAOs) and various stakeholders in addressing the food crisis in the country.
Human Trafficking​

Human trafficking feeds on poverty, crises and women’s unequal status in the society. The FHR will work with partners to promote the rights of human trafficking survivors, strengthen prevention and ensure adequate response.

Trafficking in persons, especially women and children, for commercial sexual purposes and labor exploitation is one of the fastest growing areas of international criminal activity. It is now considered the third largest source of profits for organized crime and it feeds on poverty, despair, war, crises, ignorance and women’s unequal status in most societies. The globalization of the world economy has increased the movement of people beyond and across borders, both legally or illegally, especially from poorer to wealthier countries. This requires a comprehensive international approach in the countries of origin, transit and destination that includes measures to prevent such trafficking, to exercise justice against traffickers and to protect the victims of trafficking. This entails protecting their internationally recognized human rights. This has been identified by the FHR as an area of focus within our new programme. The FHR will focus its interventions on:

  • constitutional education;
  • advocacy and civil society mobilization around trafficking prevention and criminal accountability;
  • provision of technical expertise through research and policy development;
  • capacity building, and
  • regional and international cooperation.
Sustainability of CSOs​

Civil society organisations (CSOs) in South Africa face increasing operational difficulties. The FHR works to create an enabling environment for CSOs, and a space for dialogue between the state and CSOs, and between CSOs themselves. 

In addition to diminishing funding prospects, the socio-economic environment in South Africa has made it increasingly difficult for civil society to operate freely and independently. There has been a notable increase in the CSO regulatory framework with various overlapping and duplicating legal regimes, which prove particularly burdensome for smaller CSOs. Social justice and human rights organizations have been particularly affected by this state of affairs as they are predominantly funded from the private or institutional sources that have been withdrawing from South Africa, and often work in opposition to the government. At the same time, the government is obliged under the Constitution to ensure public participation in policy development and implementation, with social justice and human rights organizations becoming the main conduit for civil participation in this regard. In light of this, the FHR will work on:

  • A strategic engagement between social justice and human rights organizations and the government;
  • the provision of technical expertise through research and capacity development;
  • capacity-building; and
  • advocacy and civil society mobilization around the issues of sustainability.
The Regional & Continental Human Rights & Transitional Justice Initiatives​

FHR works to promote international human rights law and transitional justice through knowledge-sharing, advocacy and civil society mobilization.

While individual civil society organizations in South Africa provide information on international human rights or on matters arising from the operations of the African Union (AU), this is often limited to a particular subject or provided on ad hoc basis. Given the FHR’s international profile, its well-established partnership with government, and good relations with international organizations, the FHR is in a position to create a comprehensive platform for the sharing of information and knowledge in respect of international human rights and transitional justice. In the scope of this subject-matter, the FHR would like to center its activities on the following issues: transitional justice; advocacy around the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the restoration of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal. Our activities will focus on:

  • Advocacy and civil society mobilization;
  • regional and international cooperation;
  • capacity building;
  • research, and
  • supporting human rights defenders.
Human Rights & New Technology​

New technologies have become increasingly relevant for human rights and social justice. The FHR will provide research into the impact of new technologies on human rights and how it can best be leveraged for the benefit of the human rights and social justice sector.

The right to privacy as enshrined in the Constitution has become ever more relevant in the age of digitalization and new technologies. Data is increasingly valuable and, consequently, exploited. Surveillance can be used for the greater good, as is evident in the Covid-19 pandemic (e.g. in Taiwan information was used to accurately monitor the movement and interaction of individuals to limit the spread of the disease), but at the same time might be exploited for more sinister purposes, thereby violating the right to privacy. Governments and others can abuse, and have abused, personal information to manipulate individuals politically, such as to alter the results of elections (e.g. the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018). At the same time, new technologies have also proved particularly relevant and useful in the promotion of human rights globally. Human rights defenders and activists use them to monitor serious human rights violations, to share information and to hold governments to account. In light of this, the FHR will focus on the interaction between human rights and new technologies. In particular, the FHR will:

    • Advocate for data protection at national and regional levels;
    • raise awareness of new technologies and their impact on human rights, including increased technological literacy;
    • provide research on the subject;
    • engage in policy development, and
    • support civil society organizations in using new technologies for the promotion of human rights.
Socio-economic Rights

The realization of constitutional socio-economic rights has not been fully and equally achieved by all people in South Africa. The FHR provides constitutional education and continues promoting socio-economic rights through a number of activities.

The South African Constitution is based on the respect for, promotion, protection and fulfilment of all human rights and includes an entrenched Bill of Rights, in which socio-economic rights are justiciable. Sections 24 (Environment), 26 (Housing), 27 (Health, food, water and social security), 28 (Children) and 29 (Education) of the Bill of Rights set out the rights of citizens and the obligations of the State to take reasonable legislative and other measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realization of each of these rights. The South African state thus has the primary responsibility to guarantee circumstances in which every individual and community can exercise their rights. Our activities related to socio-economic rights will focus on: 

  • Constitutional education;
  • capacity building;
  • mobilizing civil society organizations;
  • provision of technical expertise, and
  • regional and international cooperation;
  • promoting and advocating for the Substantive Basic Income Grant.
Accountability for Apartheid-Era Gross Human Rights Violationss

There has been no criminal accountability for apartheid-era gross human rights violations in South Africa. The FHR continues to facilitate investigations and prosecutions stemming from the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Although the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended several hundred cases for investigation and prosecution, there have only been a handful of prosecutions in the last 15 years. The recent inquests into the deaths in detention of anti-apartheid activists have brought into the spotlight information on how both the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) colluded with political forces to ensure the deliberate suppression of the bulk of TRC apartheid era cases. The FHR has been part of the South African Coalition for Transitional Justice, and, together with its partners, has been keeping the legacy of TRC alive by advocating for the implementation of reparation policy for the victims of serious human rights violations and by mobilizing civil society and victims around the criminal accountability for the apartheid-era crimes. The FHR has resolved to continue with its programme on the Unfinished Business of the TRC by focusing on:

  • Supporting investigations and prosecutions into the apartheid-era crimes;
  • assisting and mobilizing victims and victims’ groups;
  • mobilizing civil society around the ‘Unfinished Business of the TRC’, and
  • strengthening the capacity of government in investigating and prosecuting international crimes.

Foundation for Human Rights -
Sustaining the Struggle for Human Rights

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