UNESCO STUDENT SEMINAR ON CONTEMPORARY HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES: A Call to Improve the State of Human Rights in Africa

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The UNESCO ‘Oliver Tambo’ Chair of Human Rights (OTCHR) on the Alice campus recently held its first ever-virtual student seminar on Contemporary Human Rights Issues.  The seminar was initiated in 2018 for the development of a new generation of Researchers. Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the programme was halted in 2020 and to adhere to the current lockdown level 3 restriction, it was moved online.

During the session, students who are registered for the Diploma and the MPhil programmes offered by the OTCHR were given the opportunity to present different topics such as:

Human Rights, Access to Health Care, HIV/AIDS & Discrimination, Globalization, Sexuality, Sexual Orientation and Human Rights in Africa, Asylum seekers, refugees and migrants; Constitutional bodies and human rights advocacy groups in Africa.

The presenters were expected to give balanced views on their topics of interest that centred around real life issues, while making concrete arguments that clearly illuminate on the centrality of the indivisibility, interrelationship and interdependence of human rights. In ensuring the integrity and quality of the presentations made and the seminar itself, Mr Anathi Phela who is a Lecturer at the UFH Nelson R Mandela School of Law was invited to serve as an External and Independent Assessor in the facilitation of the proceedings of the day. Other facilitators included Prof Nomthandazo Ntlama (UNESCO OTCHR Acting Head), Mr Siyabulela Fobosi (OTCHR Senior Researcher) and Dr Bellita Banda Chitsamatanga who is Postdoctoral Fellow at the OCTHR.

During seminar presentations, students were expected to:

  • place their topics within the legal framework of international covenants and conventions;
  • state how democracy in the national Constitutions in Africa has provided a framework of values and institutions for the protection and advancement of human rights and development as evidenced by the progress that has since taken place in post-apartheid South Africa; and
  • indicate how the respective African Constitutions with lessons to be drawn from each other endorse a holistic vision of human rights, which includes civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

According to Mr Fobosi, the presentations made on the day highlighted that:  “Globally the international community must handle human rights in a fair and equitable way. This should be carried out on the same basis and with the same emphasis that National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the countries where they have been developed are gradually becoming central players in the defence and promotion of human rights.”

Meanwhile, on home soil, Mr Fobosi said a number of presentations revealed that South Africa is still characterized by unequal access to socio-economic rights such as healthcare. “Thus, while everyone has the right to access health care, this appears to be on paper particularly in rural areas where people have to walk long distances to access quality healthcare.”

“In addition, while everyone has a right to access to basic education as enshrined in the Constitution, many schools (especially those in rural areas) have limited access in the enjoyment of this right. Many schools continue being subject to the lack of proper infrastructure and learning facilities, a situation that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which also showed the deep existing institutional and structural inequalities.’’

Other critical issues that emerged during the session are as follows:

  • People living with albinism remain part of the most vulnerable groups in the world and their rights tend to be violated either directly or indirectly.
  • People living with disabilities remain the most disadvantaged and impoverished groups that face wide-ranging violations of human rights, such as institutionalization, alienation, stigma and prejudice, and lack of access to resources for health, education and employment opportunities.
  • The significance of environmental protection was also a heated debate wherein it was emphasised that it is an essential measure in the effort to secure the effective universal enjoyment of human rights.

“At the end of the seminar what emerged was that there is an urgent need to improve the state of access to human rights in South Africa and beyond, particularly in relation to accessing quality education, access to health, healthy environment. Most importantly to ensure the promotion of the rights for most vulnerable groups in our society through the adoption of the human rights language,” said Mr Fobosi.

Source: UNESCO ‘Oliver Tambo’ Chair of Human Rights