Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at the African Human Rights Moot Court Competition, held at the University of Pretoria, 3 October 2016
The Dean of the Faculty of Law University of Pretoria
Assistant Director of the Centre for Human Rights University of Pretoria
Representatives from the Faculty of Law of the University of
Participants in the Moot,
Ladies and gentlemen, friends
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to this event - the largest and oldest human rights educational initiative in Africa. Boa tarde e bem-vindo, bonjour et bienvenue (“Good afternoon and welcome”).
The African Human Rights Moot Court Competition, which is organised by the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, in collaboration with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Faculty of Law of the University of the Gambia, has a proud and uninterrupted history of 24 years, in which it has reached over 10,000 men and women – an entire generation of young African human rights lawyers.
Since its establishment in 1992, 143 universities, representing 49 African countries have taken part.
The Moot was specifically mentioned when the Centre was awarded the 2006 UNESCO Prize for Human Rights Education and the 2012 African Commission Human Rights NGO Prize.
The Centre for Human Rights has made an outstanding contribution to the cause of human rights in South Africa and to the advancement of a human rights culture by means of education and training of professionals in South Africa, other countries on the continent and beyond.
This year the Centre celebrates its 30th anniversary. When it was created, during apartheid, the Centre contributed to the adaptation of a Bill of Rights. Later, it participated in the Constitution-building process.
Why do we place such a high value on human rights education?
Human rights can only be achieved through an informed and continued demand by people for their protection.
Human rights education promotes values, beliefs and attitudes that encourage all individuals to uphold their own rights and those of others.
It develops an understanding of everyone's common responsibility to make human rights a reality in each community.
This is particularly relevant at a time when human rights violations and abuses seem to be escalating all over the world.
Earlier this year, a report by Amnesty International stated that, and I quote, the world has “reached a nadir” for human rights in the past year and international systems are no longer adequate.
We can project that human rights education is something which will become ever more important.
This is echoed in the words of Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who has recently remarked that -
"Even in kindergarten, children should learn – and experience – the fundamental human rights values of respect, equality and justice. From the earliest age, human rights education should be infused throughout the program of every school – in curricula and textbooks, policies, the training of teaching personnel, pedagogical methods and the overall learning environment…. [They] can be guided by human rights education to make informed choices in life, to approach situations with critical and independent thought, and to empathize with other points of view."
Human rights education constitutes an essential contribution to the long-term prevention of human rights abuses. Human rights education can be defined as education, training and information aimed at building a universal culture of human rights. Effective human rights education not only provides knowledge about human rights and the mechanisms that protect them, but also develops the skills needed to promote, defend and apply human rights in daily life. In this sense, it contributes to the long-term prevention of human rights abuses and violent conflicts, the promotion of equality and sustainable development and the enhancement of participation in decision-making processes within a democratic system. The international community has increasingly expressed consensus on the fundamental contribution of human rights education to the realization of human rights.
Provisions on human rights education have been incorporated into many international instruments and documents including -
- the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
- the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
- the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
- the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,
- the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,
- the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
- the Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and many others.
And what about human rights education in Africa in particular?
I’ve read an interesting observation by Steven Feldstein of the US Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, where he says that –
“…One of the biggest obstacles to advancing human rights in Africa is the underlying sentiment that human rights principles are western constructs that do not fully relate to the African experience.”
And while this perception may exist, it is also painfully ironic, given that the denial of human and civil rights in Africa were often brought about by colonial western powers. We are indeed seeing many positive developments in human rights across Africa, such as an increase human rights institutions and the emergence of strong civil society organisations. Think of the work done in the area of human rights by the African Union and the ACHPR. If one takes, as an example, the issue of LGBTI rights, there is a mistaken perception that little progress is being made in terms of LGBTI rights in Africa. This perception has to be addressed.
Our neighbouring country, Mozambique, decriminalized homosexuality in June by introducing a new penal code that scrapped colonial-era prohibitions on homosexuality, dating back to 1886, that could condemn gay persons to three years’ hard labour.
We’ve seen three recent African court decisions—in Botswana, Kenya and Zambia— which “represent significant progress on human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and have broader implications with regard to countries' obligations” to uphold basic rights for marginalized groups.
Apart from decisions such as these, we are also witnessing the emergence of more dialogues on the issues of SOGI rights – dialogues that would not have taken place 5 or 10 years ago, dialogues that mean that SOGI rights are kept high on the public agenda.
For example, in November last year, a joint dialogue on sexual orientation and gender identity was held between the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the United Nations human rights mechanisms in Banjul, The Gambia, ahead of the 57th ordinary session of the African Commission.
One important aspect in relation to addressing human rights in Africa was mentioned by South Africa last week. Last week, the Human Rights Council held a general debate on technical assistance and capacity building in the field of human rights. The various delegations underlined the importance of providing technical assistance and capacity building in order to promote and protect human rights.
South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, emphasized that States are primarily responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights and reiterated that the promotion of human rights should be based on cooperation and genuine dialogue with the State concerned.
As you know, we are celebrating 2016 as the African Year of Human Rights. The year 2016 marks the 35th Anniversary of the adoption of the African Charter in 1981. It marks the 30th Anniversary of the entry into force of the African Charter in 1986. It marks the 29th Anniversary of the operationalization of the African Commission in 1987. It is important to stress that almost all African countries have entrenched the notion of respect for human rights in their constitutions and provided for procedures to claim remedies where violations occur. Some constitutions provide for a bill of rights with justiciable economic and social rights.
Several African countries have ratified most of the UN and African human rights instruments, and others have taken steps to domesticate some of the instruments.
A number of African countries have also developed national action plans for the promotion and protection of human rights.
As the African Union has stated, these human rights achievements and opportunities notwithstanding, the continent continues to face enormous challenges with regards to the respect, promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights.
These challenges include the inadequate allocation of resources to human rights institutions, lack of capacity, unwillingness by some States to domesticate international human rights treaties, violence which results in destruction of life, property and reverses human rights gains, widespread poverty, and a lack of human rights awareness.
The declaration of 2016 as the Africa Year of Human Rights provides all of us here with an ideal opportunity to consolidate the gains already made over the years, to ensure better coordination of human rights bodies in Africa, and move towards the establishment of a true human rights culture on the continent.
I want to wish you all great success for the Moot Court Competition. This event gives African lawyers the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and its implementation.
It empowers future legal practitioners and academics from across the continent with regards to human rights law, it strengthens the African Union’s human rights institutions and promotes the role of law and legal institutions in resolving conflict.
I want to leave you with the words of Japanese philosopher and activist, Daisaku Ikeda: “The effects of human rights education can be dramatic in awakening people to the value and power of their own lives."I thank you.