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Human rights in focus at conference

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The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Thursday concluded a two-day conference in commemoration of its 20 years of existence, with the event featuring various role players within the field of human rights. The conference, carrying the theme ‘From 20 Years of Constitutional Democracy to 20 Years of Human Rights in South Africa’, also marked the launch of a new programme designed to educate citizens as to their rights within the constitution.

In attendance were representatives of several other Chapter 9 institutions, including the Office of the Public Protector (OPP), the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), and other post-1994 establishments. The event was also attended by government officials, and major NGOs in the human rights sector.

“We invited all of those institutions to basically look back and reflect on how far we have come as a country in ensuring the rights of people are being protected and promoted, and what other challenges we face as institutions, but also as a country,” explained SAHRC spokesperson, Isaac Mangena.

He noted that much of the emphases of the event centered on how far the various Chapter 9 institutions would still need to go, in order to ensure the rights of everyday South Africans were being adhered to on a daily basis.

The conference saw the launch of the SAHRC’s 2014/2015 Human Rights Advocacy report, looking at the work of the commission over the past calendar year, as well as the year ahead.

“Before 1994 we basically had no constitution at all on which we can start defending the rights of people. So in 1995, when we had that, we started working around rectifying the past mistakes (using the constitution),” he explained.

The SAHRC has set the goal, over the course of the next year, to try and bring the constitution to the people. This will be done through the launch of its Access to Justice programme, which will be directed at South Africans in both urban and rural settings.

“The statistics that we conducted show that most people have never touched a constitution (booklet), and those who have don’t know exactly what is happening inside it,” he said, adding that the project would be conducted in collaboration with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.

For more information visit the commission’s website at VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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