HURISA CELBERATES 20 YEARS OF EXISTENCE
For immediate release
5 September 2014
On the 6th of September 2014, The Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) celebrates 20 years of existence as one of the leading human rights NGOs in South Africa.
HURISA traces its origins to the Richard Goldstone Commission established in late 1991 by the then President Frederick de Klerk, to investigate political violence and intimidation during the tumultuous period leading to the first democratic elections in 1994. In June 1993, HURISA was formally founded as the Institute for the Study of Public Violence and began to serve as the research and documentation arm of the Goldstone Commission. When the Goldstone Commission’s mandate ended in 1994, the name of the organisation was changed to the Human Rights Institute of South Africa.
During its 20 years of existence, HURISA has worked hard to transform, safeguard and advance human rights not just in South Africa, but also in the southern African region and on the African continent as a whole. The institute has worked with a wide number of NGOs and community-based organisations in South Africa, and provided training to government officials, legal practitioners, grassroots communities, students, educators and learners. For more than 10 years, HURISA coordinated the Pan African Human Rights Training Programme through which individuals, academics, human rights defenders, NGOs and government officials were provided with training on human rights and human rights mechanisms on the African continent. Training camps were successfully held in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco and Egypt.
Understanding the need to strengthen the work of continental and international human rights mechanisms and institutions, HURISA has worked closely with bodies such as the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (African Commission), the Organisation for African Unity (now the African Union), SADC and the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.
HURISA enjoys observer status with the African Commission and has since 2002 served as a vital source for promoting and protecting the African human rights mechanisms in South Africa and beyond. HURISA also serves as a focal point for the Executive Committee of the NGO Forum for the SADC region, and organises pre meetings to consolidate human rights issues for discussion in the NGO Forum as well as in the public sessions of the African Commission.
The organisation has contributed to the development of the legal architecture of the African Union through advocacy and lobbying of the African Commission for adoption of a number of regional mechanisms and resolutions. It is in this vein that the institute played a seminal role in the development and adoption of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, the Protocol Establishing the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, and the Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
Other milestones for which the institute can justifiably claim pride include the adoption of guidelines for the nomination and appointment of commissioners and judges of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, the adoption of the Robben Island Guidelines on Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, and the Kigali Declaration which promotes the work of human rights defenders on the African continent. Forced disappearances and extra judicial executions continue to plague the human rights landscape in Africa a fact which made HURISA lobby strongly for the African Commission to expand the mandate of the Committee on Death Penalty to include the afore-mentioned egregious human rights violations.
Proud as we are of our history and of our achievements, we cannot nevertheless turn a blind eye to the many challenges facing South Africa 20 years since that proud moment when all South Africans, irrespective of their colour, gender or creed, were able for the first time to exercise their bitterly fought for right to elect a government of their choice. South Africa’s peace and security is threatened by high unemployment, deep inequality and social exclusion. Spiralling crime, violence against women, children, gays, lesbians and migrants, and a disregard for the basic rights of others now define the new South African society. In a society defined by consumerism and the ostentatious display of material wealth, corruption has become endemic. From the non-delivery of school books in Limpopo thus compromising the right to education of a whole generation of children, to corruption in the tender processes, wasteful state expenditure by provincial departments and entities, municipalities, negligence and incompetence have claimed over R30 billions of governments’ annual procurement budget ( Head of Special Unit Investigation and the Auditor General’s report, 2011-2012 report).
Community anger at the lack of basic services such as water, electricity, health clinics and roads has seen a dramatic rise in what are now labelled ‘service delivery protests’. These protests have become increasingly violent often resulting in deaths, injuries and the destruction of public and private property.
Institutions established to support constitutional democracy in South Africa such as the South African Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Auditor General, Commission for Gender Equality and the office of the Public Protector continue to be of pivotal importance to our maturing democracy and for folding the state accountable. However, disregard for the rule of law and the undermining of these institutions is a worrying sign that all is not well in the “Rainbow Nation”.
As HURISA celebrates twenty years of actively promoting the cause of human rights in South Africa, it cannot lose sight of the many challenges confronting the young democracy. However, these challenges are the reason why the work of the institute and many other similar civil society organisations remain important.
The Institute has planned a series of commemorative events around Johannesburg. They will include seminars, an exhibition and a gala dinner during which an award will be presented to a South African who has made the most outstanding contribution to the defence of human rights in the country and beyond. HURISA will appreciate any donations in cash or in kind, towards the successful 20 years celebration of its existence which will be on 27 November 2014.
HURISA acknowledges the sacrificial role of the late Tata Nelson Mandela in soliciting funds for the Goldstone Commission of Inquiry from the Royal Norwegian community, Danish Embassy, Finish, Konrad-Adenauer–Stiftung e.V., Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa, Open Society Foundation, Open Society Foundation of Southern Africa, Ford Foundation, Mott Foundation, Oxfam-Novib, Hivos, Southern Africa Trust, Oxfam-Great Britain, Foundation for Human Rights, European Union, Lifeline advocacy sub grant (CIVICUS), Freedom House South Africa.
For comments/enquiries, please contact Corlett Letlojane, the Executive Director, HURISA. Telephone numbers: 011 333 1730 /082 574 7773