Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Addendem: The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC)


  The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and is one of a number of bodies established by the Constitution to protect and promote constitutional rights.[46] Significantly the Constitution sets up separate Commissions to monitor, investigate, research, educate, lobby, advise and report on issues concerning gender equality and the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. In addition, the SAHRC derives its powers from the Human Rights Commission Act of 1994.

  The SAHRC works with government, civil society and individuals, both nationally and abroad, to fulfil its Constitutional mandate and serves as both a watchdog and a visible route through which people can access their rights.

  While the handling and management of complaints concerning human rights violations lies at the heart of the SAHRC's work, it also aims to create a national culture of human rights through its advocacy, research and legal functions. It also implements, monitors and develops standards of human rights law. Moreover, the SAHRC works closely with Human Rights Commissions throughout Africa and the world.


  The functions of the SAHRC are set out in section 184 of the SA Constitution which states that the Human Rights Commission must promote respect for human rights and a culture of human rights; promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights; and monitor and assess the observance of human rights in the Republic.


  The powers of the SAHRC are set out in Section 184(2) of the SA Constitution and the Human Rights Commission Act as necessary to perform its functions. These include the powers to investigate and to report on the observance of human rights; to take steps to secure appropriate redress where human rights have been violated; to carry out research; and to educate.

  Moreoever, each year, the Human Rights Commission must require relevant organs of state to provide the Commission with information on the measures that they have taken towards the realisation of the rights in the Bill of Rights concerning housing, health care, food, water, social security, education and the environment.

Specific powers of investigation and enforcement

  The Human Rights Commission Act of 1994 specifies that the Commission has the power to resolve any dispute or to rectify any act or omission emanating from, or constituting a violation of or threat to, any fundamental right through negotiation, mediation and conciliation. It also has the power to litigate on behalf of complainants or in its own name.

  In addition the SAHRC has extensive powers of investigation for dealing with human rights violations. These include the power to subpoena witnesses, the power to issue search warrants and powers of seizure and the power to hold formal hearings of evidence during its investigations.

  The SAHRC has also established links with other independent institutions, to which some matters are referred if these institutions are better placed to deal with them.


  The SAHRC is made up of two sections: the Commission, which sets out policy and a Secretariat, which implements policy. The Chairperson is overall head, and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is head of the Secretariat, accountable for the finances of the SAHRC and has responsibility for the employment of staff.

  As set out in Section 5 of the Human Rights Commission Act, the SAHRC has established standing committees to advise and assist it in its work. The SAHRC appoints the members of the standing committees, each of which is chaired by a Commissioner.

  To facilitate the work of the Commission, the Secretariat is divided into departments: Legal Services: Research and Documentation; the Advocacy Unit; and Finance and Administration. The SAHRC has also established provincial offices to ensure its services are widely accessible.

  The programme activities of the SAHRC are set out in the SAHRC's Business Plan.


  The South African Constitution stipulates that the SAHRC, as with all constitutional bodies designed to protect and enforce fundamental rights in South African, should be fully independent and impartial.

  (2)  These institutions are independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law, and they must be impartial and must exercise their powers and perform their functions without fear, favour or prejudice.

  (3)  Other organs of state, through legislative and other measures, must assist and protect these institutions to ensure the independence, impartiality, dignity and effectiveness of these institutions.

  (4)  No person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of these institutions.

  (5)  These institutions are accountable to the National Assembly, and must report on their activities and the performance of their functions to the Assembly at least once a year.

  Despite these constitutional stipulations, there is some concern as to the financial independence of the SAHRC, the funding of which is channelled through the Ministry of Justice47.[47]


  The following state institutions strengthen constitutional democracy in the Republic:

  a. The Public Protector

  b. The South African Human Rights Commission

  c. The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities

  d. The Commission for Gender Equality

  e. The Auditor-General

  f. The Electoral Commission

46   Section 181(1) of the SA Constitution lists these bodies as follows: Back

47   Spencer and Bynoe A Human Rights Commission (IPPR London 1998) 53. Back

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