What are human rights?

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he signing of the Constitution in Sharpeville was a commemorative gesture in remembrance of the people who died there in 1960.
he signing of the Constitution in Sharpeville was a commemorative gesture in remembrance of the people who died there in 1960.

On the 4th of December 1996, the Constitutional Court approved the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Six days later (on 10 December 1996) it was signed into law by the first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela in Sharpeville.

The signing of the Constitution in Sharpeville was a commemorative gesture in remembrance of the people who died there in 1960.  As President Mandela described it, the signing of the Constitution in Sharpeville marked the closure of a chapter of exclusion and a reaffirmation of our determination to build a society of which all of us can be proud.  On 21 March 1960, a large group of inhabitants of the township of Sharpeville, in what is today Gauteng (then Transvaal), headed for a police station. They wanted to turn themselves in to be arrested because they refused to carry their pass books with them that were required by law.

The ‘dompas’, as the pass book was known in those days, limited their freedom of movement. The confrontation became violent and police shot dead 69 demonstrators. The massacre resulted in countrywide demonstrations and protests in foreign countries against the apartheid state. Every year the Sharpeville massacre is remembered on Human Rights Day.

The anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre is remembered the world over every March 21 on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The international response to the massacre was swift and unanimous. Many countries around the world condemned the atrocity. On 01 April 1960, the United Nations (UN) Security Council passed a resolution condemning the killings and calling for the South African government to abandon its policy of apartheid.

A month later, the UN General Assembly declared that apartheid was a violation of the UN Charter. This was the first time the UN had discussed apartheid. In 1973 the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of Apartheid was adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in November 1973 to criminalize apartheid.  This was followed by the suspension of South Africa from the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1974.

Two years after the end of the apartheid regime on 10 December 1996 President Nelson Mandela signed South Africa’s new Constitution into law. The new Constitution that enshrined the rights and freedoms of all peoples was symbolically signed at Sharpeville. The signed Constitution came into operation on 4 February 1997 and has since then drastically transformed the legal, political, social and economic landscape of the country.


Our Constitution is one of the most internationally acclaimed constitutions in the world. Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms all people should enjoy. Chapter 2 of South Africa’s Constitution contains a Bill of Rights which enshrines 27 basic human rights for all people in our country.

The Bill of Rights affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. Among the rights in South Africa’s Constitution are the right to life, equality, human dignity, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of association, access to justice, political rights, and the right to gather and demonstrate peacefully.


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