The month of March sees most South Africans celebrating Human Rights Day (21 March), and we thought it might be a good idea to remind everyone about what those Human Rights cover.
Human rights are the foundational rights that everyone has because they are human. They don’t have to be earned, and neither are they bestowed by someone as a privilege. From the moment you take your first breath, you have them. When described as a noun, i.e. she had every right to be unhappy, it assigns the word right a moral or legal entitlement to have or do something, this means it cannot be taken away from you.
Because every human has human rights, our first responsibility to our fellow human beings is to make sure that we respect other people’s rights. In return, we want our rights to be respected, and collectively as the human race, we try to avoid do anything that violates another person’s rights. Another thing to remember is that these rights do not replace the laws we have in place, and so we as a collective need to respect these laws as well. If you don’t know your rights, perhaps you can start exploring them by reading the list below.
First and foremost, subscribing to the concept of human rights means that all people are equal and as such should be treated equally. Discrimination against any person because of their race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language or birth is not acceptable on any level.
2. Human dignity
As a human being, you are accorded dignity and that dignity is to be respected and protected.
As a human being, you have the right to life. No-one has the right to take your life away, not even the state
4. Freedom and security
- No-one can be imprisoned unless there is a good reason.
- No person can be detained without a fair trial and torture is not allowed.
- Everyone has the right to be free from all forms of violence, even in your own home.
- A human cannot be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way. Corporal punishment (like caning or whipping) is not allowed, in schools or homes.
- All people have the right to make decisions about whether you want to have children.
- Humans are accorded the right of control over your body. You cannot be forced to undergo medical or scientific experiments against your will.
5. Slavery, servitude and forced labour
Slavery, servitude and forced labour are against human rights and as such not allowed.
No person can be searched or have your home or possessions searched without good reason and the appropriate legal requirements. The government is not allowed to randomly take your possessions, open your mail or listen in on your telephone calls.
7. Freedom of religion, belief, and opinion
- A person can believe whatever they choose and you can follow the religion of your choice.
- State institutions (like schools) can follow religious practices (such as prayers in the morning), but people cannot be forced to attend them.
- Traditional marriages can take place or under the laws of your religion, as long as these laws do not go against the Constitution.
8. Freedom of expression or speech
Everyone may say, write or print photographs of whatever they want. However, people are not allowed to spread propaganda for war or encourage people to use violence. A language that is disrespectful or tries to get people to harm others because of their race, ethnicity, gender or religion is not allowed.
9. Assemble, demonstrate, picket and petition
- hold a gathering;
- publicly demonstrate;
- picket; or
- present a petition.
But this is to be done peacefully and weapons may not be present.
10. Freedom of association
You can associate with whomever you want to. This right extends to doing business, forming groups or associating with anyone you want to mix and mingle with.
11. Political rights
If you are a citizen of a country, you should be able to:
- join a political party;
- encourage other people to join this party; and
- start a political party.
Elections for national, provincial and local governments must be held regularly and they must be free and fair. If you are a citizen, and at least 18 years old, you can:
- vote in secret in any of these elections; and
- stand for election yourself
Your citizenship of your country cannot be taken away from you.
13. Freedom of movement and residence
- You live wherever you want in South Africa.
- You can leave South Africa if you choose and come back at any time.
- The government cannot take away your South African passport.
14. Freedom of trade, occupation, and profession
You can choose to do whatever work you want, qualifications, skills or experience needed for the job will be factored into being accepted for the work you apply for.
15. Labour relations
- Everyone has the right to be treated fairly at work.
- Employees can form and join trade unions and strike.
- Employers can form and join employers’ organisations.
- Trade unions and employers’ organisations can decide how their organisation will be run. They have the right to get together with other unions or organisations to bargain for what employees want. They have the right to sign up new members and they can join federations made up of other trade unions or employers’ organisations.
People have the right to a healthy environment. The government is mandated to and responsible to do things (such as passing laws) to protect the environment.
Your property cannot be taken from you unless:
• the law allowing this applies to everyone in general and not only one group of people;
• your property is going to be used for a public purpose or in the public interest (for example, if the government is going to build a dam and your property will be flooded); and
• you are paid for your property. The amount of money the government will pay can either be agreed between you and the government, or it can be decided by a court if you cannot agree. This section also states what criteria a court must look at when deciding how much money the government must pay.
You have a right to have access to housing. ‘Access to housing’ does not mean that you have a right to a house. It only means that no one can stop you from getting a house if you have the resources to buy or rent one. Or, if you already have a house, no-one can take it away from you. But this right does imply that the Government, within its power and resources, must try to make it possible for people to get proper housing.
19. Health care, food, water, and social security
The government must do things, such as passing new laws, to make sure that every citizen has access to:
- health care services;
- food and water;
- social security, including assistance to people who cannot support themselves and their dependents.
You do not have the right to these things. Instead, you have the right to have access to them. No-one can stop you from applying for these things or take them away from you if you already have them. This right also says that you cannot be refused medical care in an emergency, even if you cannot pay for it at that time. This again does not mean that the medical care is free. Finally, the government must use its resources to try and make sure you get these things.
20. Children’s right
In addition to all the other rights in the Bill of Rights, children under the age of 18 have special rights. These include the right:
- to family care or other care if the child is removed from its family;
- to food, shelter and health care;
- not to be abused or neglected;
- not to be forced to work or given work which is not suitable for a child;
- not to be placed in custody unless this is necessary. In such a case, the child must be kept separate from adults;
- to be given a lawyer if necessary;
- not to be used to fight during armed conflict or war.
Everyone has the right to basic education, including adult basic education, in the language of your choice (if this is possible). Although the Bill of Rights does not describe what basic education is, the government’s policy at the moment is that this is education up to Grade 9 and adult basic education is education up to Level 4. Although basic education is given free at the moment, the Bill of Rights doesn’t say that it must be given for free. The government is mandated to try to make sure that people can get further education (such as at a university or Technikon education), however, this does not mean that this education must be free. Private schools, universities. colleges and technikons cannot discriminate against students because of their race, and usually, this education comes at a cost since most are business and not government-driven.
22. Language and culture
You can use the language and follow the culture that you choose, but you must respect other people’s human rights about language and culture.
23. Cultural, religious and linguistic communities
- enjoy their own culture;
- practice their religion;
- use their language; and
- set up their organisations.
But they must respect other human rights when they do so.
24. Access to information
You have the right to:
- any information which the government has; and
- information that someone else (like a private company) has if you need it to protect one of your rights. Familiarise yourself with the POPIA Act which serves to protect your personal information.
25. Fair administrative action
Administrative action (that is, action by the government or government departments) must be allowed by the law, it must be reasonable, and the procedures used must be fair. You can ask for written reasons for any decision that is made by the government which goes against one of your rights.
26. Access to courts
You can have a legal problem decided by a court or a similar structure.
27. Arrested, detained and accused persons
This section sets out your rights if you are arrested, imprisoned or accused of committing a crime. They include the right:
- to remain silent and not be forced to confess;
- to appear in court within two days of your arrest;
- to be released, either on warning or bail, unless there is a good reason to keep you in jail;
- to be given a lawyer paid for by the government if you cannot afford a lawyer, and where injustice might happen if you are not given a lawyer;
28. Limitation of rights
The rights in the Bill of Rights may be limited only in terms of the general application of the law to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom, taking into account all relevant factors, including the:
- nature of the right;
- importance of the purpose of the limitation;
- nature and extent of the limitation;
- the relation between the limitation and its purpose; and
- less restrictive means to achieve the purpose.
29. State of emergency
A state of emergency may be declared only in terms of an Act of Parliament, and only when:
- the lives of the nation are threatened by war, invasion, general insurrection, disorder, natural disaster or other public emergencies; and
- the declaration is necessary to restore peace and order.
30. Interpretation of Bill of Rights
When interpreting the Bill of Rights, a court, tribunal or forum:
- must promote the values that are the basis of an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom;
- must consider international law; and
- may consider foreign law.
When interpreting any legislation, and when developing the common law or customary law, every court, tribunal or forum must promote the spirit, purpose, and objects of the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights does not deny the existence of any other rights or freedoms that are recognised or conferred by common law, customary law or legislation, to the extent that they are consistent with the Bill.