Parliament reflects on Human Rights Day

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Parliament has joined the entire nation in commemorating Human Rights Day under the theme ‘The year of indigenous languages: Promoting and deepening a human rights culture’. 

The Presiding Officers of Parliament -- National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete National Council of Provinces chair Thandi Modise -- said this year’s commemoration calls for honest reflection on progress made and challenges still faced in the country’s march towards the full realisation of human rights. 

The Presiding Officers said Human Rights Day, declared after the advent of democracy, seeks to remind everyone of the supreme sacrifices made 59 years ago, when 69 unarmed black South Africans laid down their lives while peacefully demanding the end to apartheid and the granting of full human rights to all. 

On 21 March 1960, apartheid police used live ammunition to mow down peaceful marchers in Sharpeville, who were against the inhumane influx control measures of the day, including pass laws. Sixty-nine people were killed and over 180 maimed. 

This paved the way for the ultimate realisation of freedom and democracy in April 1994, ushering in the world acclaimed Constitution that guaranteed human rights for all people in South Africa.  

Since then, great progress has been made in entrenching human rights, with Parliament being at the fore front of such efforts, changing millions of people’s lives for the better. 

Challenges that threaten this progress continue to emerge including violence against women and children, corruption, poverty, inequality and unemployment. 

Parliament, however, acknowledged the interventions to deal decisively with these challenges. 

Parliament’s role also continues to be reaffirmed, as levels of holding the executive and various other social players, including the private sector, accountable continues to grow from strength to strength. 

Parliament has taken steps -- including the commissioning of the High level Panel to assess the impact of laws passed since 1994 in relation to people’s access and enjoyment of basic and socio-economic rights – to identify gaps, which are now included in the 5th Parliament’s legacy report, with recommendations for the 6th Parliament to deal with.

“We trust that these inalienable rights of citizens, including citizens’ indigenous languages, will be central to efforts of the 6th Parliament to set and drive a new and accelerated rate of affirming of citizens’ rights.

“It is a historical obligation to push for the realisation of these rights for all, including the vulnerable segments of our society. 

“We dare not fail, for the future generations look to us to make a difference and build the South Africa envisaged in the National Development Plan - the South Africa of our dreams,” said the Presiding Officers. 

They urged everyone to reflect, recommit, advance, protect and defend gains made in affirming human rights, including human dignity, peaceful existence, equality and freedom, as the nation celebrates 25 years of freedom and democracy. –