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5 Human Rights Organisations in South Africa

Like many countries, South Africa has a turbulent history when it comes to human rights. During the apartheid era, which lasted from 1948-1991, a system of segregation and discrimination against the black population reigned. In 1994, a few years after apartheid legislation was repealed, the South African Constitution laid out strong protections for human rights. Its effectiveness, however, is often thrown into question. According to the Human Rights Watch page on the country, South Africa’s dedication to human rights, specifically regarding its foreign policy practice, is unclear. Issues like police brutality, the treatment of refugees and migrants, and xenophobic violence remain prevalent, while the protection of LGBTQ+ rights is also inconsistent. All that said, human rights activists are doing good work in South Africa. Here are five local organizations:

People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP)

This grassroots non-profit works in Cape Town, South Africa, and focuses on the rights of refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers. Founded in 2007 by Zimbabweans living in South Africa, the organisation was a response to asylum seekers fleeing Robert Mugabe and the xenophobia these vulnerable people encountered. In the years since, PASSOP became one of the first organisations in the Western Cape to research and respond to anti-immigrant violence in Du Noon, Imizamo Yethu, and other areas.

Their projects include LGBTQ+ refugee advocacy, gender rights, disabled children support, and more. PASSOP fights for the rights of all immigrants, including undocumented ones who lack reliable access to essentials like healthcare and shelter. PASSOP frequently protests current South African foreign policies regarding immigration, and advocates for change in the Department of Home Affairs.

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR)

Founded in 1979, the Pretoria-based Lawyers for Human Rights began as an organization fighting human rights abuse and oppression under apartheid. When South Africa repealed the system, LHR helped with voter education and election monitoring, so democracy could be successfully established in 1994. According to their website, they have three main purposes: to be a human rights advocate and constitutional watchdog; to be an international force in developing human rights; and to contribute to improved policies on rights for the disadvantaged.

LHR’s primary work is providing free legal services to both non-national and South African victims of human rights abuses. On their site, they have a list of programs, which include the Mozambican Mineworkers Project; a Penal Reform Programme; Security of Farm Workers Project; and Strategic Litigation Unit.

Centre for Human Rights

In 1986, the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Law established the Centre for Human Rights. It serves as an academic department and an NGO focused on human rights education. It was one of the few institutions within South Africa to speak against apartheid abuses, and in 1994, it served as a technical adviser during the writing of the Constitution. In 2006, it was awarded the UNESCO Prize for Human Rights Education.

As an academic org, most of its work centers on research and education. The centre has developed influential literature on issues such as the rights of women; people with HIV; indigenous people; and other vulnerable groups in South Africa and Africa at large. It’s also well-known for its African Human Rights Moot Simulation Competition. The centre connects lawyers, civil servants, and others thanks to its LLM postgraduate law degree in human rights and democratisation in Africa.

Dullah Omah Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance, and Human Rights

Founded in 1990 by Dullah Omar, this institute was originally called the Community Law Centre. It was a major player in negotiations between the National Party government and democratic parties as apartheid came to an end. In 2015, the name was changed to honor Dullah Omar. It remains an important contributor and advisor on policies regarding human rights. It currently operates under the University of the Western Cape’s Faculty of Law.

The Institute’s work includes publishing articles, books and reports, and holding workshops and conferences. It focuses on issues like children’s rights, criminal justice reform, and women’s rights. At the time of this article, there are 30 doctoral and post-doctoral researchers working there.

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission)

This independent chapter nine institution was formed in 2002 under the South African Constitution. Its mandate is to “promote respect” and guard the rights of cultural, religious, and linguistic communities. These communities are vulnerable and have faced oppression, so the CRL Rights Commission’s job is to protect them by receiving and investigating complaints.

The CRL Rights Commission is comprised of two main programs: research & development policy; and public education & engagement. The research & development unit’s job is to work with the communities and build up a knowledge base. The public education and engagement unit is to “promote community participation.”

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