Monday, 21 March 2022

Pretoria: As South Africa commemorates Human Rights Month, government has encouraged South Africans to use this occasion to foster greater social cohesion, nation building and a shared national identity.

“It is our duty as a nation to strive for inclusive socio-economic development, while ensuring that we combat racism, racial discrimination and all related intolerances,” Cabinet said in a recent statement.

Human Rights Month is an opportunity to honour those who made it possible for the nation to achieve freedom and democracy. This include the courageous men and women who marched in Sharpeville on 21 March 1960 for the abolition of pass laws.

On that day, 69 people died and 180 were wounded when police fired on a peaceful crowd that had gathered in protest against the pass laws.

Launched under the theme, ‘The Year of Unity and Renewal: Protecting and Preserving our Human Rights Gains’, government has this month held a series of dialogues and events as part of commemorations.

Although last year marked the 25th anniversary of the Constitution, government has also extended the commemoration into 2022, with a series of activations planned.

The Constitution enshrines the rights of all people in South Africa and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to deliver the keynote address at the Human Rights Day event today, which will be held at Reagile Sports Ground in Koster, North West.

Protecting women’s rights

Since the advent of democracy, government has made strides in engendering a human rights culture in the country. In an effort to address the discrimination and abuse against women, the President in 2018 convened the National Summit against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide.

There has also been a 365-days commitment in this fight across all government departments and State agencies.

In addition, the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities developed a National Strategic Plan (NSP), in which all commitments on practical interventions are codified, monitored and reported about periodically as a way to gage progress.

On the legislative front, there has also been progress, given the latest enactment into law of the three anti-gender-based violence (GBV) bills.

These legislative reforms will, among others, allow victims to make online protection order applications without being present in court. Moreover, protection order applications will be on a 24-hour basis on the online application platform.

As a deterrent measure for likely perpetrators, one of the bills has provision that makes it possible for the particulars of persons convicted of sexual offenses to be made publicly available.

These bills include the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill and Domestic Violence Amendment Bill.

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is also hard at work in consultations with stakeholders that will ensure that going forward, sex work is decriminalised.