Foundation for Human Rights mandate and activities, with Deputy Minister

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Justice and Correctional Services

01 November 2016
Chairperson: Dr M Motshekga (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Infographic: Constitutional Awareness in SA

The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR). led by its executive director. presented its Socio-Economic Justice for All (SEJA) Programme to the Committee. It explained the FHR’s mandate, leadership structure, activities, grant making, and partnership with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD) and the European Union. The SEJA programme aims at improved awareness of constitutional rights; enhanced participatory democracy through public policy dialogues; improved and sustained collaboration between government, Chapter Nine institutions, civil society, and other stakeholders; increased research on socio-economic rights and jurisprudence; improved sector coordination and policy design on constitutional development; and strengthened capacity, engagement and participation of civil society organisations in the realisation of constitutional rights.

In discussion, Members welcomed the FHR report and commended it for its activities. However, they expressed concern over perceptions that developed countries use donor funding of civil society organisations to effect regime change in developing countries. They sought clarity on the FHR’s income and expenditure. They also queried grassroots intervention by the FHR, duplication of its functions with the South African Human Rights Commission, the FHR’s assistance of land claimants, use of indigenous languages, and transformation initiatives.

The FHR Executive Director admitted that perceptions of donor funding and regime change are difficult to erase. She assured the Committee that the FHR does not fund political parties, expressing concern that international donors are leaving South Africa. FHR has earmarked five key indigenous languages for its grassroots programmes and has an outreach in each province. It acknowledged that land claims are linked to historical injustice and that the link between unemployment, land, and food production is important.

The Committee unanimously adopted its Report on Filling of Vacancies in the South African Human Rights Commission

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr John Jeffery, and the delegation from the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR). He apologised to the delegation for cancelling the Committee’s former invitation.

Preliminary remarks
The Chairperson noted an observation by Commissioner Ameermia of the SAHRC that less than 46% of South Africans are knowledgeable about the Constitution. This figure highlights the need for civic education. He spoke of the need to involve South Africans in the project of building a constitutional democracy, the need for progressive realisation of socio-economic rights, rights of persons with disabilities, and diversity in the composition of the FHR Board.

Deputy Minister Jeffery pointed out that the FHR, as an NGO, does not use public funds, and accordingly, is not accountable to Parliament in a similar way as other government agencies. He clarified Commissioner Ameermia’s statistics on awareness of the Constitution, explaining that only 45% of South Africans lack a full understanding of the Constitution.

The Chairperson replied that the FHR is not an ordinary NGO. The fact that it works in partnership with a Department that accounts to Parliament implies that it is indirectly accountable to Parliament.

Foundation for Human Rights briefing on Socio-Economic Justice for All (SEJA) Programme
The Executive Director of the FHR, Ms Yasmin Sooka, introduced her delegation as: Deputy Director, Mr Hanif Vally; Head of Knowledge Management Unit, Mr Gerald O'Sullivan; Head of SERSA Programme Unit, Ms Mamashoabatha Noko, and a Junior Project Officer.

Ms Sooka traced the historical context of the FHR, explaining its partnership with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD), the European Union, and the initial leadership structure. The FHR seeks to address inequalities and promote human rights values. Its key objectives are addressing the legacy of apartheid, supporting transformation, and building a human rights culture. It has 11 board members – six males to five females. There are two white members and nine black and coloured members. The Director General, Deputy Director General, and Head of Donor Coordination will be included in the Board. The FHR has a total staff strength of 45.

Ms Sooka explained the FHR funding arrangements (see document). The finance agreement between the DoJ&CD and the EU is EUR 25 million, of which EUR 18 million is for FHR to disburse. The FHR also receives funding from other donors. Its total expenditure as at 31 March 2016 is R 43 080 745.

Ms Sooka explained the FHR’s grant making. The FHR is mandated to achieve specific developmental goals in the human rights arena. Its grant making work is transparent and open to scrutiny. It avoids conflict of interest in its grant making. Relevance and race are key criteria in its decision making on grant awards. 60% of grants go to community based organisations.

Ms Sooka explained FHR’s relationship with state agencies. It has an MOU with the DoJ&CD to deliver the SEJA Programme. It runs joint programmes with the SAHRC and the DoJ&CD on programmes such as moot courts, constitutional rights education, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, food, women, corporal punishment, and baseline surveys. It is currently working with student leaders on the fees issue.

Ms Sooka stated that empirical evidence is needed on the reasons behind destruction of public property during protests.

Ms Noko and Mr Vally explained the key indicators of the SEJA programme. These are:
• Improved awareness of constitutional rights involving popular media programmes, national schools moot court competition, socio-economic and constitutional rights awareness to farm workers and rural dwellers.
• Enhanced participatory democracy through public policy dialogues involving anti-racism and anti-xenophobia strategic and policy engagements.
• Improved and sustained collaboration between government, Chapter Nine Institutions, civil society, and other stakeholders involving community advice offices.
• Increased research on socio-economic rights and jurisprudence. This involves: right to social security report, right to freedom of assembly, gap analysis of legislation pertaining to the right to equality of trans-sex and intersex communities, opinion on domestication of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and research on the progressive realisation of socio-economic rights.
• Improved sector coordination and policy design on constitutional development
• Strengthened capacity, engagement and participation of civil society organisations (CSOs) in the realisation of constitutional rights.

The FHR is working on joint constitutional rights projects with the DoJ&CD. These include Constitutional and Human Rights Education, National Task Team on LGBTI issues, Civil Society Policy Framework, and SEJA Baseline Study.

Mr B Bongo (ANC) thanked the FHR for its report. He noted a worrying trend of regime change across the world led by civil society organisations, which are often unable to explain their legitimacy. For example, there are always CSOs protesting outside Parliament. Mr Bongo asked the FHR to clarify its funding over the last three years. He noted that the human rights discourse has been used to perpetrate violence and cause conflicts in many countries.

Mr Bongo remarked that Mpumalanga where he comes from has not experienced grassroots intervention by the FHR. He asked the FHR to explain the composition and tenure of its board.

Mr W Horn (DA) asked the FHR to provide a breakdown of its finances, allocations to programmes, and expenditure.

Mr S Swart (ACDP) expressed concern over the Committee’s approach to foreign donors. This issue seems to always bring up comments about regime change and insecurity. He suggested that the ANC government should explain all government-related grants from foreign donors. He remarked that since government is involved with the FHR, it is objectionable to insinuate the FHR is involved in regime change. He noted that the FHR is reporting to the Committee for the first time. What happens if donors decide to take their funding elsewhere because of allegations of regime change, given the good work the FHR is doing?

The Chairperson stated that South Africa, as a developing nation, is sensitive to foreign grants because there may be strings attached to the grants.

Ms C Pilane-Majake (ANC) welcomed the presentation. She remarked that instilling a culture of human rights in the South African citizenry should be balanced with South Africa’s sovereignty and developmental goals. As the first NGO to report to Parliament, the impression that foreign grants to the FHR are questionable because of fears of regime change should be discouraged.

Ms Pilane-Majake noted that the FHR has 121 advice offices. Why does the DoJ&CD not use these offices for its consultative processes on the Traditional Courts Bill? What sort of findings have the FHR made on its anti-racism campaigns? What is it doing about the Fees Must Fall protests? What is the total amount received by the FHR over the past five years from foreign donors? To what extent is its gender transformation programme linked to the National Forum on the Legal Profession programmes on transformation in the legal profession?

Mr L Mpumlwana (ANC) voiced support for Mr Bongo’s remarks on foreign donors and regime change. He stated that when a person gives out money, there are expectations that go with it. Many governments have fallen because of foreign grants. It is important to know the objectives behind foreign grants.

Mr Mpumlwana asked whether the anti-racism campaign should not be focused on schools. He noted that land claims are related to slavery. Those who work on farms need liberation because of their slavish conditions. What is the FHR doing about this? The human rights discourse is very academic and discrimination is very real. To what extent does the FHR assist the downtrodden? How does it ensure that its work does not duplicate that of the SAHRC?

Mr Bongo requested the addresses of the FHR’s 121 advice offices. He noted that the paralegal offices were very effective pre-1994.

Mr Bongo stated that regime change is an international concern. Accordingly, the Committee needs to be sensitive to it. Page 22 of the presentation gives the impression that the FHR is researching the root causes of violence.

Mr Mpumlwana expressed concern about indigenous languages. In theory, South Africa is supposed to have 11 official languages. In practice, however, it is only English that is used in programme execution. How does the FHR promote the use of other South African languages, given that some people may feel oppressed by being compelled to express themselves in English?

Ms Pilane-Majake asked whether the right to protest can be exercised without resorting to violence. The people of South Africa have a voice. Are there unintended consequences of giving expression to this voice and what can be done about this? Can a balance be struck between the right to protest and resort to violence, given that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) resulted from a realisation of the need to balance the right to protest with the need to promote peace?

Responding, Ms Sooka stated of the EUR 25 million given to DoJ&CD for the SEJA Programme, EUR 18 million has been allocated to the FHR over the past five years. EUR 6 million has been received so far, and the balance is waiting for release in Brussels. At the end of each quarter, the FHR submits reports to its donor coordination units and the DoJ&CD. In return, it receives an evaluation report. The FHR achieved a clean audit in its last evaluation and is willing to make it available to the Committee. The UN Human Rights Council was given the role of performance evaluation of the FHR.

Ms Sooka explained that the FHR works with a steering committee on transformation in the legal profession comprising of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL), the Black Lawyers’ Forum, etc. She explained that the FHR conducted surveys in schools on racism last year.

Ms Sooka further explained that the FHR is striving to ensure that its programmes are carried out in indigenous languages. Community radio uses indigenous language in promoting the FHR’s programmes. However, people seem to prefer English language materials over materials in indigenous languages.

Ms Sooka stated that addressing the link between donor funding and regime change is difficult. The FHR is happy to hand over relevant documents on its funding and programme implementation. Its works is guided by constitutional values and the DoJ&CD is also actively involved. The FHR does not fund political parties.

On the organisation of the FHR, Ms Sooka explained that some board members had been present since the FHR’s inception in 1996. The tenure of office will be streamlined to ensure diversity and prevent stagnation.

Ms Sooka stated that international donors are leaving South Africa. A study is being conducted on this and the FHR is happy to disclose its findings. A big issue with donors is the governance model for advice centres. Sadly, local funders find it difficult to fund human rights programmes. Sustainability is also a concern, while involving South Africans in human rights campaigns is very important. The FHR is researching civil society accountability.

Mr Hanif Vally, FHR Deputy Director, added that the notion of first, second, and third generation rights originated from developed countries. The FHR does not believe that rights should be separated because all human rights are interconnected and interdependent. The Constitution itself acknowledges that South Africa is a nation built on human rights.

Mr Vally explained that the FHR appeared before the previous Committee to present its programmes. The FHR received a request from the Ministry of Education to run a programme on racism and conducted these programmes in every province in the country. He noted that withdrawal of foreign grants will kill many civil society organisations in Africa.

Mr Vally explained that the FHR has earmarked five key indigenous languages for its grassroots programmes. It has an outreach in each province, which is advertised on community radios and newspapers. He affirmed the FHR’s stance that the right to protest does not confer a right to violence.

The Chairperson stated that the FHR’s report does not disclose that its funding has strings attached to it. He remarked that the SAHRC has noted that South Africans are not keen to engage with human rights issues. The FHR should not be focussing on domesticating treaties to the neglect of domestic legislation such as the Traditional Courts Bill.

The Chairperson observed that there appears to be a duplication of functions on the issues of racism, social cohesion, and access to socio-economic rights. For example, the Forum Against Racism reports to the UN. What is the FHR’s relationship with this Forum?

The Chairperson pointed out that the SEJA programme includes subsistence farming and food security. It does not include land claims. Moreover, very small grants are given to local farmers. How can access to socio-economic rights be enhanced without addressing their root causes of access to land? Should the FHR not prioritise funding of land claimants, since most socio-economic rights are based on access to land? Why has the FHR not declared that there can be no human rights when most people in the country have no access to land? He concluded that engagement is needed on this to prevent perceptions that people are instigated to resort to violence.

Ms Pilane-Majake remarked that the Legal Practice Act is crucial to legal transformation. What is the FHR doing about the Act’s implementation? Why is the FHR’s funding routed through the EU when its allocation is from a bilateral agreement?

Ms Sooka replied that the FHR’s activities on transformation are connected to the Legal Practice Act. She explained that the FHR’s allocation is handled by donor coordinating committees.

Ms Sooka further explained that the FHR is examining ways of dealing with the underlying issues of land claims such as misuse of legislation and forceful evictions.

Mr Vally acknowledged that land claims are linked to historical injustice. Only 6% of the land appropriated in the past has been restored to their original owners and 25% of people live in abject poverty. Recognising these issues, the FHR has held conferences on land claims, but has not achieved much. There are ongoing engagements with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and the DoJ&CD. These engagements centre on land claims. He acknowledged that the link between unemployment, land and food production is important.

The Chairperson stated that land claims issues must be resolved to prevent a breakdown in law and order. He called for a conference to address land claims.

Mr Mpumlwana agreed that the FHR is doing a very good job. He pointed out that rural people are ignorant of social security laws. The FHR should assist with awareness campaigns to address this ignorance.

Mr Vally responded that the FHR is revising its training programmes on consumer laws.

The Chairperson commended the progress made by the FHR.

Deputy Minister Jeffery sought clarity on the FHR’s institutional partnership with the DoJ&CD on racism. He observed that there was a programme set up by the DoJ&CD to address land related protests.

The Chairperson explained that there was a Forum against Racism, which was set up before Mr Jeffery’s tenure as Deputy Minister commenced. He thanked the FHR delegation.

Committee Report on the Filling of Vacancies in the SAHRC: adoption
The Chairperson said they would not reopen the deliberations on the filling of vacancies in the SAHRC. He tabled the Committee’s Report for members’ consideration.

Ms G Breytenbach (DA) and Ms Pilane-Majake suggested that the Report be taken as read.

The Committee agreed and adopted the report.

The Chairperson thanked everyone and closed the meeting at 12:56 pm.

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