What exactly is the right to dignity?

  • Everyone has the right to have his/her dignity respected and protected.
  • A person's dignity refers to self-respect and his/her value and worth as a human. The right to dignity includes, for example, not to be humiliated, insulted or treated with disrespect.
  • However, a person is expected to tolerate certain infringements of his/her dignity. This means that the right to dignity does not provide a person with a right to never be criticized at all.
  • For example, a student receives a fail mark for his/her essay which includes criticisms about where s/he went wrong. Even though the student might feel bad after reading the criticisms, s/he must remember that it was made in order to improve him/her. On the other hand, the criticisms should not be of such a nature to humiliate the student, for example, the terms “stupid” or “dumb” must be avoided.

What exactly is the right to basic education?

  • Everyone has the right to basic education. In general, this right allows for basic education to be available, accessible and of a good quality. For example, to have access to classrooms, teachers, textbooks and so on.
  • Basic education can also refer to the period a child is forced to attend school, which is until s/he reaches the age of 15 years or completes grade 9.
  • It should be kept in mind that the right to basic education does not include a right to free education. However, there are options available to apply for exemption from paying school fees by comparing the annual school fees with the annual income of the parents. For example, to qualify for a total exemption, the annual school fees must be equal to or more than 10% of the combined annual income of the parents.

What exactly does the right to freedom of speech allow a person to say?

  • Everyone has a right to freedom of speech (which forms part of a person's right to freedom of expression), which allows a person to voice his/her opinions, thoughts, and beliefs. This can be done through expressing thoughts verbally (such as during a conversation with someone), in writing (such as in an e-mail) or on the internet (such as a post on social media platforms).
  • However, there is a false belief that a person can say whatever s/he wants without any limitations or consequences.
  • The right to freedom of speech may be limited and the rights of other persons must be taken into account, for example, a person may say something that humiliates another and violates that person's right to human dignity.
  • A person is also not allowed to say whatever s/he feels like where it amounts to hate speech (such as racist remarks).

What exactly is the right to equality?

  • Everyone has the right to be treated equally and to receive equal protection of the law.
  • This right has allowed for developments in a modern society regarding women being equal to men, the recognition of same-sex marriages and so on.
  • These developments are due to the right to equality also including the right not to be discriminated against, directly or indirectly, based on race, gender, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
  • For example, a woman cannot be discriminated against when applying for a job just because she is pregnant.
  • However, the right to equality does not mean that a person should be treated equally in all aspects. For example, a person's opinion on a certain topic may not be considered with equal force to that of an expert on the same topic, or that another person's painting be purchased for the same price as a well-known painter's.

Do you have any more questions?

Is there a difference between the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?

  • The Constitution is the highest law in South Africa. This means that any legislation and decisions of courts must be in accordance with what is stated in the Constitution.
  • The Bill of Rights is a chapter within the Constitution where the human rights are set out, such as the right to life, privacy and fair labour practices.
  • Seeing as the Bill of Rights is a chapter within the Constitution, it is also the highest law in South Africa.

Are human rights only protected by the Constitution?

  • Apart from the Constitution, there are also various legislation put into place that can protect human rights.
  • For example, the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 will protect the right to privacy when it comes into operation, by restricting how a person's private information may be accessed and used.

What happens when two human rights conflict with each other?

  • It may happen that two persons try to enforce their human rights against each other, for example, where one person says something to another who takes offence to what is said.
  • In this example the person who made the statement might want to enforce his/her right to freedom of expression (including freedom of speech). The other person who was offended might want to enforce his/her right to dignity.
  • In a situation like this, the courts will have to make a decision on which right will prevail.
  • The courts will have to weigh the right to freedom of expression of the one person to say what s/he wants, against the other person's right to not have their dignity impaired. Various factors will be taken into account in deciding which right to limit, such as what has been said and to whom it was said, the reason for the statement and whether the statement was made public or not, and so on.

What can a person do if his/her human rights are infringed?

  • Every person has the right to approach a court to resolve any dispute s/he may have with another person or entity (such as a company) through the application of law. This is known as the right to access to courts.
  • This right also includes to have the dispute resolved in a fair public hearing in court or other tribunal or forum, such as an Ombudsman.
  • A person who feels that his/her human rights have been violated can do the following:
  • Contact the South African Human Rights Commission (“SAHRC”) to lodge a complaint. The SAHRC will resolve the complaint through negotiation, mediation or arbitration.
  • Approach a court to enforce his/her right to claim compensation if the limitation caused damages. It is recommended to obtain the assistance of an attorney when approaching the court.
  • Lodge a complaint with another institution, such as the Public Protector or a non-governmental organisation.

Can a person stand up for someone else's human rights?

  • An interested person can bring an application to a court on behalf of a person whose rights are being infringed.
  • Section 38 of the Constitution allows any person to act on behalf of someone else who cannot do so themselves. Further, the interested person could even act on behalf of a group or community of persons who are affected.

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