What is Human Rights Day and why we celebrate it?
What are human rights?
Human rights are rights that everyone should have simply because they are human. In 1948, the United Nations defined 30 articles of human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It established universal human rights based on humanity, freedom, justice, and peace.
Human Rights Day, 21 March
Human Rights Day in South Africa is historically linked with 21 March 1960, and the events of Sharpeville. On that day 69 people died and 180 were wounded when police fired on a peaceful crowd that had gathered in protest against the Pass laws. This day marked an affirmation by ordinary people, rising in unison to proclaim their rights. It became an iconic date in our country’s history that today we commemorate as Human Rights Day as a reminder of our rights and the cost paid for our treasured human rights.
When South Africa held its first democratic election, with Nelson Mandela elected as its first democratic President, on 21 March, Human Rights Day was officially proclaimed a public holiday.
On Human Rights Day, South Africans are asked to reflect on their rights, to protect their rights and the rights of all people from violation, irrespective of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, whether they are foreign national or not – human rights apply to everyone, equally.
We must remain vigilant and report abuse and cruelty, such as human trafficking, child labour, forced labour and violence against women, children, and the aged and other vulnerable groupings of people.
What are your rights?
In terms of the Bill of Rights, everyone has a right to life, equality and human dignity.
- All persons have a right to citizenship and security. Persons and groups are entitled to freedom of assembly, association, belief and opinion, and expression. They have the right to demonstrate, picket and petition; everyone has the right to be free from forced labour, servitude and slavery.
- All persons have a right to privacy and to exercise political rights; all have a right to access to information and just administration action. They have rights when arrested, detained and accused, and must have access to courts.
- All have a right to freedom of movement and residence and of trade, occupation and profession. In the workplace, everyone has a right to engage in trade unions and labour movements. Anyone has the right to purchase property anywhere and to basic education. They have a right to language and culture and communities; and not least, freedom of religion and belief. The Bill of Rights also specifies the rights of persons belonging to cultural, religious or linguistic communities and the rights of children. In addition, there are specific laws to safeguard women and protect children.
- Protected rights include a healthy environment; housing, health care, food, water and social security.
We are proud to invite local and international visitors to our Parliament, the receptacle and guardian of the legacy of human rights in South Africa. The Public Education Office offers free tours of Parliament, and the Public Relations Office assists members of the public wishing to observe debates from the galleries in the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces. Visitors can also attend Public Hearings or Committee meetings.
For more information contact the Public Education Office of Parliament.
Telephone: (021) 403 3341
We hope this informative article has left you more empowered and educated on what Human Rights Day is about and its importance!
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