The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in the Western Cape has begun a roadshow to educate communities on their human rights. Picture: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus
Cape Town - On the eve of Human Rights Day, the role of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and its effectiveness has come under the spotlight.

Constitutional law experts, along with social justice organisations, have raised questions about the commission’s effectiveness to function and whether it remains relevant in our society.

“Unfortunately, the SAHRC does not deal as effectively as it should with all complaints.

“It is overwhelmed by all the cases it has to deal with and does not have the human resources to cope with everything,” constitutional law professor, Pierre de Vos, said.

“Most South Africans cannot afford to challenge infringements of their rights in courts, apart from non-governmental organisations. The SAHRC should play a pivotal role in assisting individuals to vindicate their rights and when needed, to help people to challenge breaches of rights in court,” De Vos said.

Christine Botha, the acting director at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, said that the commission has a very broad mandate and forms a vital function of our Constitution,

“However, one would assume that such a huge mandate would be supported by an adequate budget, and we have seen the commission facing budget constraints which is highly concerning as this questions their ability to perform their functions,” she said.

Botha said that the key concerns are the investigations and reports that are delayed,

“I think that needs to be specifically addressed, it might also be the issue of human capacity and resource capacity to address these human rights infringements,” Botha said.

A recent judgment in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, scrapped the Dutch Reformed Church’s policy against same-sex marriages, declaring it unlawful and invalid.

“It's a groundbreaking judgment because we see that human dignity trump’s religious laws. This shows that the church cannot evade issues and we need to push strongly on this,” Botha said.

Human rights commissioner, Chris Nissen, said: “They are not wrong, we have to be more accessible. We have been discussing this since the beginning of the year and we will be making our voices more louder.”

Nissen said that since the beginning of the year, they have received 250 complaints, the bulk of these complaints are with regards to equality, LGBT-related issues and service delivery matters.

“We have a very different complaints handling system but I do believe we deal with the complaints effectively,” he said.

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Cape Argus