Address by President Nelson Mandela to the Workshop for Human Rights Education

21 September 1994

Mr Chairman,
Members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights,
Judges of the Supreme Court,
Vice-Chancellors, Delegates to this Workshop on Human Rights Education in Africa,

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a special privilege for me to address this workshop on Human Rights Education in Africa. Let me at the outset congratulate the organisers of this conference. We note that this is an African workshop conceived and organised by Africans involving 42 delegates from 38 African countries.

It is appropriate that the Universities of Natal and Witwatersrand, and the Lawyers for Human Rights, have taken this initiative in collaboration with the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and 6 other African organisations.

The organisations gathered here represent a most impressive array of Human Rights Non-Governmental organisations on our continent. We regard this as a manifestation of the growing Human Rights movement in Africa, and an indication that the movement has taken root in civil society amongst the people themselves.

This continental workshop is tackling an issue which is important and urgent, and one which is close to my heart. Thus it is with pride that I welcome you on our soil. By this act, you are once more reaffirming South Africa's admission into the community of African Nations.

Only a few years ago it would have been unthinkable for such a meeting to have taken place here.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Human Rights campaigners throughout Africa, and indeed to all the people on this continent, who shared in our struggle for a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.

We are also aware that the pre-eminence of our own struggle frequently displaced your own concerns on the international Human Right agenda. We have, therefore, an obligation to re-instate the continent's Human Rights concerns to its rightful place. A first step towards this is to establish a just and functioning democracy and to deepen South Africa's own culture of Human Rights.

We regard Human Rights as a condition for the full personal, political and economic development of the people of our continent many of whom, even as we speak, endure the ravages of poverty, war and disease. We conceive of Human Rights in the fullest sense - economic and political rights. We do not believe in elevating political and civil rights above economic rights, or vice versa. In accordance with the approach adopted by the United Nations we believe that they are interlinked.

Human beings will never be free if they have no bread, nor will they be satisfied with bread if they are not free.

Those Governments that have stressed the primacy of economic rights at the expense of political and civil rights have managed, in the end, to deliver neither. Those that have ignored economic rights have failed to build lasting democracies.

For our part we have enshrined all the universally accepted political and civil rights and some of the economic and cultural rights in our interim Constitution. Our vision of bringing prosperity to all, has been placed at the heart of the Reconstruction and Development programme of the Government of National Unity. We regard both these elements - a rights-based political democracy as well as economic reconstruction and development - as essential conditions for the consolidation and further development of our young democracy.

Although the fundamental rights in our Constitution will be amended by the Constitutional Assembly, the Constitutional Principles which provide the framework for its decisions, prescribe that universally accepted Human Rights must be included in any future Constitution.

My own party proposed the adoption of a Bill of Rights as far back as 1924, again in 1944, and again in 1955 in the Freedom Charter. This was long before Human Rights became fashionable. I say this because there are, inevitably, suspicions that those who govern have only an expedient or opportunistic attitude to the observance of these rights.

To be sure there will be contests between state and citizens, heated contests, as to the nature, boundaries, and justifiable limitations on fundamental Human Rights. These will arise when rights are in conflict with each other, or with the implementation of a mandate given to the Government by the People.

This should be interpreted as the flourishing of democracy and a critical contribution to the evolution of our "Constitutional State". It should not be interpreted as a wavering of our commitment.

Indeed, I have recently urged the Ministers of Justice and Foreign Affairs to take the necessary steps to ratify those International and specifically African Human Rights agreements and conventions to which South Africa is not a signatory. This measure will also place the Government within an international framework of monitoring and reporting on its human rights record. By virtue of section 35 of the Constitution, those documents and instruments must also be interpretive aids in the application of our domestic law.

We are attempting to expedite our accession to the African Human Rights framework - a framework which finds expression in the African Charter for Human and Peoples Rights, together with the African Commission on Human and People's Rights based in Banjul. It is our intention to be a part of this system, to learn from the experiences of our fellow africans but also to make our own contribution and to bring our own considerations to bear.

It is important that we first define our commitment to Human Rights, within the social and political context of our continent. There is an urgent need to subscribe to, and strengthen the Human Rights framework in Africa. Strengthening this framework must be done by Africans, rather than through the expedient foreign policy priorities and selective morality of some industrialised nations.

In regard to this framework, we believe that Africans do not want second-class rights.

We reject the special plea that some Africa countries are justified in having authoritarian forms of Government. Africans demand, and are entitled to, Human Rights in the fullest sense. Human Rights, after all, codify the respect for, and the intrinsic worth of all human beings. Although they should be applied in an African setting in their own appropriate way, the logic of Human Rights has become increasingly universal.

I am aware that Africa's regional system has come under criticism, including by members of his workshop. We have noted the proposal for the establishment of an African Court of Human Rights with similar jurisdiction to that possessed by pan-continental human rights courts in other regional human rights systems. Without commenting on those specific proposals, we believe it is our duty to play a positive role in strengthening both the Charter, and the machinery for its implementation.

This we must do in a spirit of mutual trust together with other governments within the OAU.

We have a duty to ensure that the Charter represents the highest collective aspirations of the people of our Continent.

We view the promotion of a Human Rights culture, a culture of mutual respect and tolerance, as critically important for our project of building a democratic society. The failure to develop a culture of Human Rights can be so painfully witnessed in Rwanda today. But such a culture has to be nurtured. It cannot be established simply by promulgation in a Government Gazette. This is why the theme of your conference is so important. You have identified the people as the ultimate guarantor of Human Rights. You have recognised that the Human Rights campaign in Africa, like everywhere else, must be prosecuted by the people themselves.

Human Rights belong to the people - not the Government - and they are its best guardians. This is not to say that we in Government do not have our own homework to do.

We must ensure that our personnel in all departments of Government, but particularly those in the Police Service and the courts understand and give effect to the values underlying the Constitution.

Government must also ensure that the necessary institutions and mechanisms are there by means of which Human Rights can be enforced and protected.

Our own Government is in the process of establishing various institutions, including a Constitutional Court, a Commission on Human Rights, a Commission on Gender Equality, and a Public Protector's Office, all of which will provide more effective and accessible means of enforcing Human Rights.

Similarly it is important that the legal system itself be made affordable, accessible and efficient. The most elegantly drafted Human Rights are worth nothing if only the wealthy can enforce them or if remedies are subject to inordinate delays. To this end the Minister of Justice has initiated a project to review the functioning of our legal system to bring it into line with this necessary condition.

Furthermore, the Government of National Unity will shortly be establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which will publish a report on the Human Rights violations of the past. The purpose of the commission is not about vengeance or punishment.

This commission is a human rights initiative and will be presided over by independent persons of integrity, who will conduct its affairs in an even-handed manner. While it will seek to provide some measure of dignity and redress for victims, its primary purpose is to expose human conduct which is unacceptable under any conditions. To say loudly "NEVER AGAIN".

Today our Cabinet considered a proposal by the Department of Justice which will promote Human Rights education in schools and in the workplace. In doing so we recognise the importance of Human Rights education as a central component in the campaign to develop a Human Rights culture. Surely Human Rights is not something to be taught only in law schools. At this stage the project is initially concerned to develop educational models or pilot activities. We hope that this workshop will provide some ideas for the further development of this proposal. We recognise that Human Rights NGO's are not competitors, but allies in the execution of such a project.

I have not come here to lecture you on your tasks. I merely wish to encourage you in your important work as Human Rights Educators across our continent, and to wish you every success in this workshop.

I hope you will develop strategies and ideas that will be of benefit to us in South Africa and to the rest of the continent. Then, through our own efforts as Africans, we can accomplish our African dream - a continent of peace, prosperity and democracy.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation