Speech by Amb. Tobias Elling Rehfeld
Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) National Dialogue
Ladies and gentlemen, Chair of the Board Sakéle, Executive Director Corlett, all representatives from the 9 provinces, fellow defenders and promoters of human rights,
My name is Tobias Elling Rehfeld. I am the Ambassador of Denmark to South Africa and it is my great privilege to be here today to congratulate you on the important work done so far in the HURISA provincial dialogues on human rights and to extend my warm greetings to all representatives that have travelled from across South Africa to be present here today.
We are truly honoured that Denmark can be a partner with the Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) in the facilitation of today’s launch of the National Report on the 25 th Anniversary of Human Rights and Democracy in South Africa.
Today, we consolidate each of these provincial dialogues into a National Dialogue and Report with all of your input. HURISA has done a fantastic job in achieving this momentous task, and the Danish Embassy is proud to support HURISA in this initiative.
I would also like to thank each provincial representatives here, for your valuable contribution to this report and for keeping up the vibrancy of South Africa’s discourse on human rights.
I am truly both humbled and hopeful being here in the company of women and men, young and old, activist and reformers that have dedicated your time and resources in the promotion and protection of the basic human dignity that all of us are entitled to. The world becomes a better place because of your willingness to fight for what is right and I want to thank you for your dedication and bravery. You do not fight alone but have friends from all over the world.
SA democracy at 25 years
This year we celebrate 25 years of democracy after apartheid in South Africa. 25 years of transition and progression from a systematic discriminatory government that committed gross violations of the fundamental human rights and human dignity of most South Africans
As we look back there is no doubt that South Africa has come a long way since the fall of apartheid. South Africans can be proud of the way the struggle was fought. And you can be proud of the aspirations and courage that let to one of the most modern and liberal Constitution in the world.
Denmark was a close partner in the struggle against apartheid and we have always aspired to be an equally close partner with the new democratic South Africa after the transition. We are partners on a foundation of shared values and a firm belief in the necessity of a strong multilateral system and respect of the human rights of every individual person both at the international and the national level.
We cherish this partnership. A partnership that is as imperative as ever in a time where multilateralism is under threat from many sides and in a time where people lose hope and seek easy and populist solutions to difficult challenges.
According to Freedom House’s 2019 report, ‘Freedom in the World’, democracy and fundamental freedoms of human rights are in retreat. South Africa stands out in this global setting as a free country with a strong belief in the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and a vibrant democracy defended by an independent judicial system, a fearless press and courageous and feisty civil society.
This is truly remarkable on both a regional and the global scale. And the world needs South Africa to stand the ground on the principles of human rights. We need the promises of the Rainbow Nation to succeed. And we need countries like South Africa and Denmark to join forces and defend the multilateral community and the rules based international system.
But one thing is the establishment of the international conventions for the protection of human rights or the excellent South African constitutional framework. Nothing is really achieved unless we also ensure implementation of human rights on the ground.
Despite South Africa’s unwavering commitment to human rights in its Constitution and legal frameworks, progress is needed in the implementation to ensure human rights in every sphere and community. This is true for South Africa as it is true for Denmark. It is a never ending challenge to navigate how to best implement laws that were created in good faith for all our citizens.
Danish cooperation with HURISA
It is these challenges to the implementation of human rights, which make the work of HURISA so relevant and vital to South Africa. The Danish Embassy is proud to celebrating 25 years of HURISA’s hard work to consolidate human rights culture, peace and democracy in South Africa.
Denmark has for decades been a strong advocate of human rights nationally and internationally. We think this is the right think to do. We think it is a moral and political obligation. But we certainly also see it as being in our national interest — as it is in the national interest of South Africa.
Sustainable peace, stability, progress and prosperity of our societies grow when we demonstrate a fundamental respect for the human dignity and for the rights that each of us carry as human beings.
And for that reason, we see our partnership with HURISA as so important as it helps transforming the principles of human rights into concrete action and results out there in the reality of the world.
HURISA’s work to gather information on how the human rights implementation look like on the ground is therefore very important to achieve progress. We need to know how human rights are lived. Are they respected, are they correctly understood, are they thought into new policies?
In order to get this understanding, we need to hear the voices from the local communities. Find out where the gabs are and what the world looks like from the provinces in the country. We need to bring attention to these findings and distribute them and take them to the high level.
Let me on this note just single out two issues to highlight:
- Poverty and human rights
- Corruption and human rights
Poverty and human rights
Slow economic growth, growing unemployment, and a consisting ranking as the most unequal country in the world is bound to challenge the implementation of human rights in South Africa — especially the socioeconomic human rights.
Institutions that are meant to provide basic rights like clean water, energy (preferably renewable) and quality health care are unable to provide for everyone if the financial basis does not exist. Without economic opportunities not every household is able to sustain itself, making people more vulnerable to socio-economic issues like high crime and gender-based violence.
The growing youth population in South Africa and on the African continent holds immense potential to move the country and the region forward. But with youth unemployment at about 55%, frustrations will unavoidably run high and there needs to be adequate channels to express this frustration and find solutions.
Denmark advocates for the education and inclusion of the youth’s voice into society as a vital component of growing the economy, establishing a platform for the young generation to be part of finding the right solutions and growing an environment for human rights to be fully implemented.
A very important part of addressing the challenge that poverty presents to the full enjoyment of human rights is to attract investments and private sector actors to South Africa. It is a challenge that the President has clearly outlined and that we at the Embassy of Denmark work hard to achieve.
Corruption and human rights
South Africa holds a position as number 73 on Transparency International’s corruption perception index out of 180 countries. Sliding down this list — 10 years ago is number 55. Denmark is number 1 on the same index. I am not saying this to brag. I am saying it because I have notices how corruption has a significant impact in the trust between citizens and between citizens and public institutions.
Although there is in principle not a direct connection between corruption and human rights, the indirect consequences are clear. Corruption is nothing more than plain stealing. Stealing funds that could have been directed to education, health care, social welfare and protection of the vulnerable.
The many examples of theft of public funds, ofmisuse and highly inefficient use of public funds in South Africa has therefore a very negative impact on the implementation of human rights and the full liberation of the South African people. Corruption is stealing the future of the young South African democracy
It is clear from the revelations from the state capture investigations and the increased political violence that the culture of corruption in some circles have increasingly put pressure on the South African economy, on the rule of law and on human rights like freedom of association and expression.
However, as we have seen during the course of last year, there is hope. The strong judicial and chapter 9 institution, the free press and not least vibrant civil society are successfully pushing for change. Denmark partners with institutions like HURISA to give the support we can to uncover corruption and in that way push for the full implementation of human rights.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The launch of the national report today is taking place under the quite stimulating or some would say provoking headline of “the 25 Anniversary of human rights and democracy in South Africa — celebrating what… ‘?”
To me the answer is quite simple. We may not be celebrating the status quo. But we are celebrating the vision. The vision that binds communities, countries and continents. The vision that the rights and dignity of every human being is something to promote, respect and to fight for. And we are today in particular celebrating the many forces of good, the local voices, the heroes on the ground who face down the challenges and fight for the human rights of your fellow human beings.
So we are very excited that so many of you are here today to share experiences and views from across the country. I and my team will do our best to support and promote your input and the national report in our common strive for the full implementation of the human rights also here in
I thank you!