What to know about human rights

Human rights are basic rights and freedoms that all human beings are entitled to. Human rights are inherent to all human beings regardless of race, sex, nationality, disability, religion or language (United Nations, n.d.).

The South African Human Rights Commission (2018) lists basic human rights everyone should know in accordance with the Bill of Rights. Every South African should familiarise themselves with these rights; the right to equality, human dignity, life, freedom and security, basic education, housing, personal privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of association.

Human rights became a global focus after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

In the early 1960’s deinstitutionalisation of persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities in hospitals and institution was implemented in the United States and part of Europe, acknowledging the rights of mental health care users.

South African implemented the same approach officially in 2004 when the Mental Health Care Act 17 of 2002 came into effect.

In 2007, South Africa became one of the first 10 signatories of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Article 5 of the UNCRPD, which deals with equality and non-discrimination, states that all signatories shall ‘prohibit all discrimination on the basis of disability and guarantee to persons with disabilities equal and effective legal protection against discrimination on all grounds’.

Intellectual and Psychosocial Disabilities form part of the overall disability sector and are protected under all the relevant policies and legislation that aims to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Some of the policies and legislation that protect rights of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities) are available here.

A human rights violation can be described as an infringement of rights as stipulated in the Constitution of South Africa’s Bill of Rights. All laws must be in line with the Bill of Rights, however, human rights violations can happen in any environment – in the workplace, educational setting, in the health care system and in the community.

It is important for people to have avenues for support should they feel that their human rights have been violated in anyway.

Dealing with human rights violations

It is important to always exhaust all internal processes and try to resolve the matter between parties before taking it further. Always communicate in writing (e.g. emails) to keep record and evidence, and keep a copy of all correspondence, and also request the other party to acknowledge receipt of correspondence.

There are specific legal organisations that deal with specific human rights violations and these organisations are able to deal with specific institutions according to law. Please note that some processes do take time, please be patient.

Dealing with human rights violations

SAFMH has reporting channels for human rights violations to ensure that persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities have accessible methods for reporting human rights violations at their disposal. The goal is to assist individuals with accessing equal justice and facilitating assistance from with SAFMH’s legal partners. The reporting process usually involves three steps:

STEP 1: Report matter to the SAFMH Help Desk

Provide SAFMH’s Help Desk with the details of the human rights violation, including relevant dates, times and names – this should be done in writing via email or WhatsApp. Send all supporting documents or evidence to further substantiate the human rights violation that is being reported. Send your full name(s) and contact details so that SAFMH can make contact with you.

STEP 2: Assessment by SAFMH

Once SAFMH has received all the relevant information, the matter is assessed to determine how best SAFMH could assist, what advice could be provided, and to explore avenues for justice. Once the assessment has taken place, SAFMH notifies the complainant of what course of action has been proposed. SAFMH will make every effort to ensure that matters reported are assessed and attended to within 10 working days.

STEP 3: Advice / Referral for Legal Intervention

If SAFMH refers the matter, a legal partner will conduct an assessment to determine whether they would be able to assist.

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