Speech by Minister Jeff Radebe, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, on the occasion of the signing ceremony of the first grantee contracts awarded under access to Justice and Promotion of Constitutional Rights Programme, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
1 Nov 2010
Ms Yasmin Sooka
Ladies and gentlemen
Today sees the signing of agreements awarding grants to the first grantees of the Access to Justice and Promotion of Constitutional Rights Programme funded by the European Union through sector budget support. The objective of the programme is encapsulated in its sub-text: “Strengthening Civil Society”.
The programme is directly aimed at building civil society’s capacity in the areas of access to justice, creating greater awareness of constitutional rights and promoting participatory democracy.
It is almost two years ago when, on International Human Rights Day, when the then Deputy President, the Honourable Ms Baleka Mbete launched the “Access to Justice and Promotion of Constitutional Rights Programme (Strengthening Civil Society Participation)”, in Orange Farm. We now see the Programme starting to bear its first fruit.
The contribution that civil society has made in the attainment of our freedom, and the positive role it continues to play in deepening South Africa’s democracy, is the motivating force underpinning my Department’s policy framework for building partnerships between government and civil society in the areas of justice and constitutional development.
Speaking at the Annual Regular Opening of our Democratic Parliament, on 24 May 1994, a month after the historic 27 April elections, the former President of the Republic of South Africa Mr Nelson Mandela said the following on strengthening of civil society and promotion of human rights:
“Our single most important challenge is therefore to help establish a social order in which the freedom of the individual will truly mean the freedom of the individual.
We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens. As an affirmation of the government's commitment to an entrenched human rights culture, we shall immediately take steps to inform the Secretary General of the United Nations that we will subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We shall take steps to ensure that we accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Social and Economic Rights and the other various human rights instruments of the United Nations. Our definition of the freedom of the individual must be informed by the fundamental objective to restore the human dignity of each and every South African”.
Objectives of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ & CD) and Civil Society Partnerships
My department’s strategy is aimed at building partnerships with civil society in order to achieve its mandate of ‘ensuring a better life for all’ as well as the objectives succinctly coined in Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster goals which is ‘to transform the approach to justice, crime prevention and security “by adopting a restorative justice approach, building and strengthening civil society organisations that promote, protect and advance human rights, particularly those giving special attention to the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised”. The commitment to supporting civil society thus finds concrete expression in this programme. These objectives are further highlighted by the overarching objective of ensuring that all people in South Africa are and feel safe.
The democratically elected government has committed itself since 1994 to redressing the inequalities of the past and improving the quality of lives of its citizens, through promoting and entrenching a human rights culture. As a department, we remain committed towards playing an important role in this regard, with our key mandates being Justice and Constitutional Development, Promoting Human Rights and Access to Justice for All with a particular emphasis on impoverished and marginalised communities. The transformation of society is premised on the values of dignity, equality, and non-discrimination in terms of our Constitution. In all we do, we continue to be guided by these fundamental constitutional values.
This programme, with the financial support of the European Union (EU), seeks to address the following areas of importance:
- improved access to justice for vulnerable and marginalised groups;
- improved awareness and knowledge of constitutional rights in South Africa for vulnerable and marginalised groups; and
- enhanced participatory democracy through public policy dialogue and strengthening civil society organisations.
The government has undertaken a delicate balancing act of combining fiscal discipline with an increase in social spending to address past inequalities. Massive increases in social welfare spending through social grants have brought some relief to millions of South Africans. However, the commitment to eradicate poverty and inequality is undermined by the legacy of oppression, exploitation and uneven development.
Despite major achievements to overcome the legacy of the past, poverty and inequality persist, which prevents the majority of its citizens from enjoying the fruits of democracy. The full realisation of socio-economic rights remains a key challenge. From its inception, the democratically elected government has committed itself to redressing these inequalities and improving the lives of all our people, through promoting a human rights culture. In this regard as a department, we recognise the key role which must be played by civil society in assisting us to meet all our common and shared goals.
Some of the challenges which the programme intends to address include:
- enhancing the capacity of civil society to participate meaningfully in governance;
- addressing the prevalence of racism and xenophobia;
- protecting and promoting rights of the elderly, those living with disabilities, the youth, children and women;
- protecting and promoting the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants; and
- enhancing access to justice for the poor.
The programme will be implemented under the three key focus areas that I have mentioned earlier:
Access to justice
Access to Justice will be enhanced through increasing support to the diverse institutions that service the majority of the people providing advice and access to justice. The importance of this program is its support to advice offices which are mostly situated in rural and inaccessible areas that in turn provide assistance to those who cannot afford the costs of such advice.
Some of the other important elements to be examined under this focus area include the development of a joint national programme with civil society to increase the utilisation of equality courts and the enhancement of restorative justice mechanisms for vulnerable and marginalised communities.
Awareness of constitutional rights
Educating the public about their constitutional rights is an important priority in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development programme. There is a growing consensus even at an international level that educating people about their rights remains an essential building block and can contribute to the reduction of human rights violations and the building of free, just and peaceful societies. Access to information is a basic human right as well as a leverage right, enabling citizens to secure other fundamental rights. Many South African citizens are vulnerable because of their lack of access to information as well as their lack of access to education.
Poverty, unemployment, and inequality are all potential threats to South Africa’s fledgling democracy, impacting negatively on the challenge of ensuring that poor people know and understand how to access various human rights services. Access to human rights enhances the achievement of equality and human dignity. It gives voice to the poor and creates a society that not only knows its rights but knows how to protect them and access them.
The Constitution provides for participatory democracy and makes provision for civil society participation in both the national and provincial legislatures. This is consistent with the human rights-based approach. The interface between government, civil society and beneficiary communities is the cornerstone of building a thriving culture of human rights. This programme will support interventions to strengthen participatory democracy at all levels in society.
Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) as facilitator
To expedite and build a facilitative and mutually beneficial process of supporting civil society, as a Department we have decided to support civil society organisations working in the justice and human rights sector by using the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) as its conduit to facilitate this.
The Foundation for Human Rights was established in terms of an agreement between the European Union and the Government of South Africa in 1996.
In effect, the Foundation for Human Rights was established by government, and former President Nelson Mandela personally signed the agreement with the EU, with the DOJ&CD as the sponsoring Department. The rationale for the creation of the Foundation for Human Rights was the lack of capacity by government and the EU to fund and engage with a large number of civil society organisations. Both the EU and the Department have had observers on the Board of the Foundation for Human Rights since its inception.
The Foundation for Human Rights has demonstrated that it is adept at supporting projects by civil society in a transparent and equitable manner, reaching the most vulnerable members of society. I thus deemed it necessary and expedient to continue to utilise the Foundation for Human Rights as the Department’s implementing partner as it proved to be the most efficient and effective way of building partnerships between ourselves and civil society, with the main objective of achieving the Department’s strategic objectives. The Foundation for Human Rights is a unique organisation as an indigenous grant maker.
The overall objective of the programme is “to contribute to the strengthening of democracy by improving access to justice and promoting constitutional rights through civil society organisations using the Foundation for Human Rights as the Department’s implementing agency”.
In implementing this programme in collaboration with civil society, priority will continue to be given to the most vulnerable groups in society.
The targeted communities and beneficiaries include women and children; rural and urban poor communities; farm workers; people affected by HIV and AIDS, child headed households, people affected by violations of human rights, the aged; persons with disabilities; youth including children in prisons and prisoners, refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants.
Ladies and gentlemen; I would like to conclude by thanking the EU for their continued unwavering support in our commitment to promote and enhance democratic participation and accountability through partnerships between civil society and government. I want to pay particular tribute to Ambassador Briet from the European Union Delegation for the active and committed role he has played in seeing this Programme come to fruition. As you come to the end of your successful posting to our country, the legacy you have left will continue to resonate long after your departure.
To this end I am confident that the unprecedented efforts made by all of us in this important endeavour will ensure that that the constitutionally entrenched values and principles and the aspirations of our developmental state are more likely to be met.
I also wish to thank the various civil society organisations present here today and congratulate them for their successful applications for funding. Your work has just begun. Development and Democracy needs your active and committed involvement. These are mutually interdependent principles that are jointly necessary for the nurturing of our democracy or any democracy for that matter.
Lastly I wish to thank the officials from my department under the leadership of Mr Simon Jiyane and the members of the Board and staff of the Foundation for Human Rights for the contributions they have made over the past few years in bringing this Programme into existence. I am convinced that the commitment of civil society, my department and the Foundation for Human Rights working together will ensure that the objective of strengthening civil society and thus our democracy will be realised. It will be through the successes of this programme that the longer term goal of ensuring the sustainability of this Programme and even the possibility of its further enhancement will be determined.
I thank you!
Source: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
Issued by: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
1 Nov 2010
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