Human Rights Legislation
Human rights are legislatively protected by:
A. the Bill of Rights, which is contained in Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996. The Constitution is available on:
The South African Government's website (open access) - current consolidation incorporating all amendments to date. Note that there is no official version of the Constitution as amended. This webpage also includes links to:
B. The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (Act 4 Of 2000). The Act is available on SAFLII:
Human Rights Monitoring Bodies
Section 181 of the Constitution is entitled 'State Institutions Supporting Constitutional Democracy', and establishes a number of independent bodies to help enforce human rights.
The South African Human Rights Commission monitors human rights, as provided for by s 184 of the Constitution. The Commission handles and resolves complaints of human rights violations. It can refer complaints to the courts. The courts can also judicially review the Commission's decisions.
The Public Protector is South Africa's version of the Ombudsman. Its functions are contained in s 184 of the Constitution. The Public Protector protects citizens from administrative excess, government maladministration and abuse of power. The Public Protector can investigate complaints against state organs or officials and recommend corrective action.
The functions of the Commission for Gender
Equality are provided for by s 187 of the Constitution. Its function is to promote gender equality and to advise and make recommendations to Parliament on any laws that affect the status of women.
The objects of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities are contained in s 185 of the Constitution.
South African Courts
The South African courts are:
The Constitutional Court is South Africa's highest court on constitutional matters. Its jurisdiction is therefore restricted to constitutional matters. It was established in 1994 and heard its first case in 1995. More information about the role and functions of the Constitutional Court are available on its website.
The Supreme Court of Appeal is the highest court in respect of all other matters. More information on the Supreme Court of Appeal, including judgments, can be accessed on the court's website.
Finding South African Human Rights Cases
All courts in South Africa must apply the Constitution (s 165 of the Constitution) and 'promote the spirit, purport and objects of the Bill of Rights' (s 39(2) of the Bill of Rights). So human rights matters may be heard in most South African courts.
Open Access Unreported Decisions
Decisions of all South African Superior Courts and some specialist courts are available as unreported judgments on SAFLII. The decisions of individual courts can be browsed by year or searched by eg: casename, legislation or keywords. The search database can also be used to search all South African courts simultaneously.
Each decision in SAFLII provides a 'noteup' function to look at cases citing your case. Each decision also provides links to LawCite citations, so you can see cases around the world that cite your case.
SAFLII includes citations to the decisions in law reports. The titles of the report series are abbreviated. To find the full title so you can check the catalogue for holdings, use the Law Library's Legal Abbreviations webpage.
Law Reports held by the Law Library
Selected decisions from the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Appeal and High Courts are reported in the South African Law Reports. Vol 1 1947 to current are held in print only - on Level 4 of the Law Library.
Butterworths Human Rights Cases (on LexisNexis Advance, vol 1 1996 to current (UniMelb staff and student access)) contains landmark and interesting cases from the Constitutional Court of South Africa that make a significant contribution to the way in which a particular right or freedom is interpreted or applied. This database can be browsed by year or searched.
Butterworths South African Constitutional Law Reports (on LexisNexis Advance, 1991 to current (UniMelb staff and student access)) provides selected decisions from the Supreme Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court pertaining to the interpretation of the South African Constitution. SACLR is available online on Also included are key constitutional law decisions from neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana. Most decisions are in English, but a significant number are in Afrikaans. Each case has an extensive summary provided in English. This database can only be searched - there is no table of contents by year.
Latest cases from the Constitutional Court
History of the Constitution & Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court website provides a useful brief historical timeline of the Constitution and information on writing the final Constitution. The website also contains an outline of the history of the Constitutional Court.
Image source: Wikipedia
UN Treaties - South Africa's ratification status and reservations
Check South Africa's ratification status and reservations of the core human rights treaties in the UN Treaty Collection Status of Treaties database.
See the ratification status of 18 human rights treaties at a glance on the OHCHR's Status of Ratification Interactive Dashboard.
Monitoring South Africa's Compliance with international human rights obligations - National, UN & Civil Society Reports
South African Reports
The South African Human Rights Commission reports in its Annual International Reports on South Africa’s compliance with each of the core human rights treaties during the period under review, in terms of policy, noteworthy legal cases, and social and political developments. These reports also consider South Africa's national human rights obligations as a member of the African Union (AU).
REPORTS TO AND BY THE UN
UN Treaty Body Reports
South Africa is required to submit periodic reports to the UN on its implementation of and compliance with each of the seven core UN human rights treaties it has ratified. South Africa's Reports to the United Nations can be found on the UN Ratification, Reporting & Documentation website - contains the UK's reports, UN Committee observations, comments, conclusions and recommendations, and NHRI and Civil Society submissions and shadow reports.
Universal Periodic Review
The UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States, undertaken by the UN Human Rights Council. It involves review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. Review under the UPR does not depend on a country being a party to a particular human rights treaty. South African Reports can be viewed on the Documents database.
The UN South African Country Report includes information on the latest Universal Periodic Review, and the status of the country in relation to UN Charter based bodies and Treaty bodies.
The UN Universal Human Rights Index provides access to country-specific human rights information emanating from international human rights mechanisms in the United Nations system: the Treaty Bodies, the Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
Civil Society Reports
Amnesty International Annual Country Reports
Human Rights Watch annual World Reports
Freedom House's Freedom in the World - an annual study of political rights and civil liberties.
US Department of State Reports
US Department of State annual Human Rights Reports
Human Rights ranking in the Rule of Law Index
In the latest Rule of Law Index from the World Justice Project, South Africa ranked 44th out of 102 countries for its adherence to protection of fundamental human rights. See the South African statistics on the Rule of Law website.
The factors taken into account in assessing South Africa's human rights rank are those established under the Universal Declaration:
See the full Rule of Law Index for all countries here.
African Regional Instruments binding on South Africa
South Africa's Compliance with its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights
South Africa has ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
The Charter requires states to submit two types of report: an Initial Report is required to be submitted two years after ratification or accession to the Charter, and a Periodic Report is required to be submitted every two years after the initial report. Statistics and State Reports are available on the Commission's State Reporting web page. All South Africa's reports are on the South African page.
Human Rights Agencies, Associations & Centres