The South African Human Rights Commission is a national institution dedicated to protecting, promoting and monitoring the human rights of South African citizens. One of its objectives is to monitor and facilitate the implementation of the recent UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Up until a few years ago, the SAHRC had a dedicated Commissioner for Disability in the person of Jerry Nkeli, who left the organisation to form his own law practice. Mr Nkeli is Rolling Inspiration’s legal expert who writes a regular column – The Law and You – for this magazine.
A new Commissioner for Disability has not yet been appointed. A coordinated and concerted effort by the disability sector to strongly advocate the replacement of the Commissioner for Disability may go a long way in influencing the political agenda...
In the meantime, the SAHRC has appointed Simmi Pillay to manage disability issues within the SAHRC structure. She is the national coordinator for human rights and disability. .
Her job is to coordinate the Commission’s activities in the Human Rights and Disability sectors. It may sound simple but is actually a rather complex array of tasks and objectives. Her portfolio includes human rights training, public awareness, advocacy, research and monitoring. Key to her mandate is to ensure that integration and mainstreaming of services to persons with disabilities is happening. If not, then she intervenes to make sure measures are put in place. (Picture: Simmi Pillay invites people to engage the SAHRC on disability matters.)
But despite the 60-year history of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human rights, and the ratification of the UN Convention, a progressive Constitution and the Equality Act, there is still a huge gap between policy and practice when it comes to implementing human rights and disability.
Lots of people in South Africa, including disabled people, are mostly unaware of their basic human rights. This systemic exclusion is most prevalent in the rural areas. What is most important is that implementation of the education effort is followed by monitoring its effectiveness. SAHRC’s Training Unit has begun training with DEAF South Africa in creating awareness about the rights of people with disabilities.
It is important that people are aware of the role of the SAHRC and how they might engage with it in order to advance the transformation and the disability agenda.
In 2000 parliament passed the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA). The aim of the Equality Act is to promote equality and prevent and prohibit unfair discrimination. This piece of legislation is crucial in enforcing equality and preventing discrimination on the basis of disability. Equality Courts in all the provinces across the country were established for better access to justice, where people can have their equality grievances heard. This process is intended to be faster with less overheads, It is predominantly a mediation process that encourages self-representation...
The Promotion of the Access to Information Act(PAIA) is also a critical piece of legislation that protects people constitutional rights. Training is also offered in this area to raise awareness around people’s right to access information and procedures to be followed..
The SAHRC is open to all enquiries from anyone who has a complaint regarding human rights violations or whether there is a request for human rights training.