The concept of human rights allows people to speak up when they experience abuse and corruption. The concept of human rights empowers people and tells them that they deserve dignity from society. For more information visit the South African Human Rights Commission

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Interest and awareness of human rights has grown in recent decades. In 1948, the United Nations released the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has become the most important document of what should be considered the standard for basic equality and human dignity.

Know your human rights!

Your right to equality

The right states that everyone is equal and must be treated equally. No one has the right to discriminate against you based on your race, gender, sex, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language or birth among others.

All people are equal and must be treated equally.

Your right to Human dignity

Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected.

You have dignity because you are a human being and your dignity must be respected and protected.

Your right to Life

Everyone has a right to life and nobody, not even the state, has the right to take a life. This means that no person can be sentenced to death by the courts.

You have the right to life. No-one should take your life away!

Your right to Freedom and security of the person.

You can only be imprisoned if there is a good reason.

You cannot be detained without trial and torture is not allowed.

You have the right to be free from all forms of violence, even in your own home. This is to stop people abusing their wives, husbands, children, girlfriends or boyfriends.

You cannot be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way. Corporal punishment (like caning or whipping) is not allowed, in schools or homes.

You have the right to make decisions about whether you want to have children.

You have control over your body. You cannot be forced to undergo medical or scientific experiments against your will.

This means that no one can be put in prison without good reason; be detained without trial; be tortured in any way or be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way. It means that all humans have a right to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources.

Your right to Privacy

You cannot be searched or have your home or possessions searched.

No one, not even the government, has the right to search your house or property or even have your possessions seized without following the correct legal channels. The government cannot infringe on the privacy of your communication - this includes opening your mails or listening to your phone calls.

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Your right to Freedom of expression

This is sometimes called ‘freedom of speech’. Everyone, including the press, may say, write or print photographs of whatever they want. But no-one is allowed to spread propaganda for war, or encourage people to use violence. Language which tries to get people to cause harm to other people because of their race, ethnicity, gender or religion is not allowed.

South Africans have the freedom to say, write or print what they want, but this right must never violate anyone else’s right or break the law in any way.

Your right to Freedom of association

Everyone has the right to associate with anyone they want to associate with. This means people have a right to associate with a trade union, a political party, or any other club or association, including religious denominations and organisations, fraternities, and sports clubs.

This means you can be friends or business partners with anyone you want to, and you can meet or form an organisation with anyone you want to.

Your Political rights

Every citizen has the right to form a political party; to participate in the activities of, or recruit members for a political party and to campaign for a political party or cause.

Every citizen has the right to free, fair and regular elections for any legislative body established in terms of the Constitution and every adult citizen has the right ­to vote in elections for any political party, and to do so in secret.

Every citizen can stand for public office and, if elected, to hold office.

Your right to Citizenship

Your citizenship cannot be taken away from you.

Your right to Freedom of movement and residence

You can go or live wherever you want in South Africa.

You can leave South Africa if you choose and come back at any time.

The government cannot take away your passport.

Your right to Freedom of trade, occupation and profession

You can choose to do whatever work you want, as long as you have the qualifications, skills or experience needed for the job.

Your rights of Labour relations

You have the right to be treated fairly at work.

Workers can form and join trade unions and can strike.

Employers can form and join employers’ organisations.

Trade unions and employers’ organisations can decide how they will be run. They can get together with other unions or organisations to bargain for what they want. They can also organise themselves by trying to get new members and they can join federations made up of other trade unions or employers’ organisations.

Your Environment Rights

You have the right to a healthy environment. The government must do things (such as passing laws) to protect the environment.

Property Rights

Your property can only be taken away from you by the government if:

  • the law allowing this applies to people in general and not only one group; 
  • your property is going to be used for a public purpose or in the public interest (for example, if the government is going to build a dam and your property will be flooded); and 
  • you are paid for your property. The amount of money the government will pay can either be agreed between you and the government, or it can be decided by a court if you cannot agree. This section says what a court must look at when deciding how much money the government must pay.

Your right to Housing

You have a right to have access to housing. You cannot be evicted from your home and your home cannot be broken down unless a court has heard your case.

‘Access to housing’ does not mean that you have a right to a house. It only means that no one can stop you getting a house. Or, if you already have a house, no-one can take it away from you. But this right does say that the Government, with the money it has, must try to make it possible for people to get proper housing.

Your right to Health care, food, water and social security

The government must do things, such as passing new laws, to make sure that you have access to:

  • health care services; 
  • food and water; 
  • social security, including assistance to people who cannot support themselves and their dependents.

You do not have the right to these things. Instead, you have the right to have access to them. So no-one can stop you getting these things or take them away from you if you already have them. And the government must use the money it has to try and make sure you get these things. This right also says that you cannot be refused medical care in an emergency, even if you cannot pay for it at that time.

Rights of Children

in addition to all the other rights in the Bill of Rights, children under the age of 18 have special rights. These include the right:

  • to family care or other care if the child is removed from its family; 
  • to food, shelter and health care; 
  • not to be abused or neglected; 
  • not to be forced to work or given work which is not suitable for a child; 
  • not to be detained* unless this is absolutely necessary. In such a case, the child must be kept separate from adults; 
  • to be given a lawyer if necessary; 
  • not to be used to fight during armed conflict or war, but to be protected.

Your right to Education

You have the right to basic education, including adult basic education, in the language of your choice (if this is possible). Although the Bill of Rights does not say what basic education is, the government’s policy at the moment is that this is education up to Grade 9 and adult basic education is education up to Level 4. Although basic education is given free at the moment, the Bill of Rights does not say that this must be free. The government must try to make sure that people are able to get further education (such as at a university or technikon).

But this does not mean that this must be free. Private schools, universities and technikons are allowed, but these cannot discriminate against students because of their race.

Your right to Language and culture

You can use the language and follow the culture that you choose, but you must respect other people’s human rights when you do so.

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Your right to Cultural, religious and linguistic communities

Communities can:

  • enjoy their own culture; 
  • practice their own religion; 
  • use their own language; and 
  • set up their own organisations.

But they must respect other human rights when they do so.

Your right to Access information

You have the right to:

  • any information which the government has; and 
  • information that someone else (like a private company) has if you need it to protect one of your rights.

Your right to Just administrative action

Administrative action (that is, action by the government or government departments) must be allowed by the law, it must be reasonable, and the procedures used must be fair. You can ask for written reasons for any decision that is made by government which goes against one of your rights.

Your right to Access to courts

You can have a legal problem decided by a court, or a similar structure.

Arrested, detained and accused persons Rights

This section sets out the rights which you have if you are arrested, imprisoned or accused of committing a crime. They include the right:

  • to keep silent and not be forced to make a confession; 
  • to be taken to court within 2 days of your arrest; 
  • to be released, either on warning or on bail, unless there is a good reason to keep you in jail; 
  • to be given a lawyer paid for by the government if you cannot afford a lawyer and where an injustice might happen if you are not given a lawyer

Limitation of rights

The rights in the Bill of Rights may be limited only in terms of law of general application to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, taking into account all relevant factors, including:

  • the nature of the right; 
  • the importance of the purpose of the limitation; 
  • the nature and extent of the limitation; 
  • the relation between the limitation and its purpose; and 
  • less restrictive means to achieve the purpose.

Assembly, demonstration, picket and petitionrights

You can:

  • gather together with other people; 
  • hold a demonstration; 
  • picket; 
  • present a petition.

But you must do this peacefully and you cannot carry a weapon.

Freedom of religion, belief and opinion

  • You can believe whatever you want and you can follow the religion of your choice. 
  • State institutions (like schools) can follow religious practices (such as prayers in the morning), but people cannot be forced to attend them. 
  • You can get married traditionally or under the laws of your religion, as long as these laws do not go against the Constitution.

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Please consider making a donation to Silent Rights to enable us to keep helping victims of abuse and violence. You can make a donation through paypal here.

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This section sets out the rights which you have if you are arrested, imprisoned or accused of committing a crime. They include the right:

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