Honourable Mentor's Proposals to amend the Human Rights Commission Act and the Commission on Gender Equality Act

Private Members' Legislative Proposals and Special Petitions

22 February 2010
Chairperson: Mr S Thobejane (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed by the Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (MWCPD) on its response to the proposals, by Member Ms V Mentor, for amendment of the legislation of the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Gender Equality, to enable each of these bodies to actively champion the gender and human rights of all South Africans whenever such rights were violated, both in and outside the Republic of South Africa. Although the principle was supported, there were concerns about the enforceability of such legislation. The Ministry noted that it would need to consult more widely with all stakeholders, correlate their concerns and attempt to close any gaps before reverting to the Committee. It was noted that the proposals would also have cost considerations and would thus affect National Treasury. The organisations did not have powers in foreign jurisdictions, and the substance of any agreements reached in those jurisdictions would have to be included in the amended legislation. The CGE and the Ministry proposed that a working cooperative committee be established. For this reason, the Committee was of the view that the Ministry should be given sufficient time to attend to the preparatory work it had outlined – which should take about six months – before reverting to the Committee, and the proposal would stand over until then. It was noted that this would involve other committees concerned with International Relations.

The Chairperson announced that the mandate of the Committee would be changing, with reference being made to “Petitions” rather than “Special Petitions” and amendment was likely to be needed to the Rules of Parliament dealing with the Committee’s name. An awareness campaign was mooted and Media Services would be asked to meet with the Committee.

The minutes of the meeting on 16 February were approved.

Meeting report

Private Member Ms V Mentor’s Legislative proposals in respect of the Human Rights Commission Act and the Commission on Gender Equality Act
The Chairperson said that the object of the proposals by Ms V Mentor was to seek to empower the Commission for Gender Equality and the Human Rights Commission so that they were actively able to champion the gender and human rights of all South Africans whenever such rights were violated, both within and outside the Republic of South Africa.

In July 2009, the Minister of Constitutional Development confirmed that the President had mandated the Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (MWCPD) as custodians of the relevant legislation. For that reason, delegates from the Ministry had been invited to respond to Ms V Mentor’s proposals for amendment of the legislation.

Adv N Memani, Special Advisor to the MWCPD, said that after receiving the proposals to amend the legislation, the MWCPD had consulted with the Commission for Gender Equality and decided that the Ministry would not seek to introduce specific legislation. Although in principle, it supported the issue,  but would continue to further consult and consider the matter. This was also a matter that affected National Treasury.

Adv Unatini Bongco (Legal Advisor: MWCPD), said that the ground had been covered in an earlier presentation, but it was important to underscore the point that the Department firmly supported the intentions of the proposer. However there were concerns around some of the nuances raised in the submission by the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) and some concerns by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). A more consolidated and consultative process was needed to try to resolve some of the issues.

The issues were then outlined. The first point was that the proposal sought to be applicable both inside and outside South Africa. If this legislation was passed, the question of how to enforce it across borders arose. South Africa had bilateral or mutual agreements with some other countries, and only then on certain matters.

The MWCPD agreed with the conclusion of the presentation by the SAHRC that the proposed amendment to its Act raised a number of fascinating, yet important, legal issues that required further discussion and consideration. The proposals were considered to be premature at this stage, without the information being at hand to enable the Commission to reach a policy decision on the matter.

That did not negate the MWCPD’s support for the spirit and the purpose of the proposal. However, it needed more time to consult with all the stakeholders involved and define some of the issues, such as the International Tribunal. It would need to take into account the concerns of the CGE and the SAHRC, and look at the gaps and then come back to the Committee with suggestions to fill any gaps and strengthen the proposal so that it was legally sound. The MWCPD was thus waiting for stakeholders, before it could consolidate its position on the issues and attempt to resolve them.

Advocate Kamraj Anirudlwa, Parliamentary Officer, MWCPD, noted that the CGE was not opposed to the amendment but certain aspects of the proposal created problems, particularly around dealing with matters in foreign territory. Firstly, the CGE did not have any powers in foreign jurisdictions. Secondly, confirming the rights of South African citizens in foreign jurisdictions cost a tremendous amount, usually calculated in US dollars, pounds or other stronger foreign currencies. The question was in which jurisdictions could any influence be exerted. She noted that the CGE had discussed the matters with the MWCPD, and extended a hand of friendship and cooperation to work together. It was proposed to establish a working cooperative committee to take the matter forward. The intention was excellent.

The Chairperson asked whether the MWCPD was expecting any further amendments.

Adv Bongco responded only insofar as these might be necessary to strengthen the amendment proposed by the private Member. The MWCPD was not exploring any departure from the spirit of the proposal but was looking at ways of refining the proposed amendments, to take all the issues into account, and identify the gaps. This would be a joint effort with the CGE.

Ms J Sosibo (ANC) agreed that it was an international issue and therefore it would be necessary to consult with other countries, and then return to close any gaps and finalise the proposal.

Adv Anirudlwa concurred. It would be necessary to form relationships with other like-minded organisations. This would require the organisations to be identified and enquire to what extent they would cooperate. Once it was established to what extent they could assist the CGE, the Ministry and the SAHRC, it would be possible to put provisions into the Acts in line with agreements and cooperative arrangements reached, and establish jurisdiction..

The Chairperson asked how much time this would take.

Adv Memani replied that it was likely to take at least three months.

The Committee agreed that the matter would probably need six months.

The Chairperson noted that the proposal had mentioned that there would be no financial implications to the State, but believed that it would be very costly.

Adv Bongco responded that there would be cost implications. The MWCPD would advise the Committee in due course if it went that route.

The Chairperson thanked the delegates and noted that the Committee now had a better understanding. Now that both the submissions by the CGE and the MWCPD had been given, he thought there was a lot of work to be done and the proposal required enormous resources and capacity.

Ms Sosibo and Ms Tinto proposed giving the presenters time to prepare themselves and come back to the Committee.

The Chairperson noted that, after hearing the presentation of Hon Mentor and the MWCPD, it was considered preferable to allow the MWCPD to continue with the huge amount of work needed on the matter. International relations would be involved in compelling international recognition of a South African Act, and so it was not possible to determine this in isolation from other committees.

Adoption of Minutes
The minutes of the Committee meeting held on 16 February 2010 were approved and adopted.

Mandate of the Committee
The Chairperson announced that the mandate of the Committee would be changing. There was an investigation into amending the Rules of Parliament to change the name of the Committee so that it no longer referred to “Special Petitions” but “Petitions” in order to better assist and play a significant role in the challenges of the country, and change the lives of the people by listening to grievances from communities and assisting them.

Ms Mocumi said this would require an awareness campaign to ensure the public was informed.

Ms Salome Meso, Parliamentary Researcher, responded that the Committee was waiting on Media Services, who argued that Parliament would not allow a stand-alone programme for the Committee. It was suggested that Media Services be invited to meet with the Committee and Ms Meso would follow up.

Other Committee business
It was noted that the next meeting would be held on 2 March 2010, at 15h45, to hear presentations from Hon de Lille and Hon Selfe.

The Chairperson noted that all Members of Parliament, regardless of whether they were on study tours or not, should acquire official passports.

The Chairperson noted that alternatives for the study tour had been explored and the UK was willing to host the Committee around the end of March, which was not a good time. This was still a priority. However, Malawi, which had given the assurance that any time would suit, was the second option.

The Chairperson said that in the second term priority would be given to meeting with one of the three provinces who had a Petitions Act, to discuss the successes of that programme, how they reached communities and their public participation, so that when the draft bill was forwarded it would be informed by sufficient preparatory work on the ground.

The meeting was adjourned.

Share this page: