Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Better Bill of Rights

At the Apartheid Museum yesterday morning, I saw a summary of the terms of the South African Bill of Rights. We have no equivalent here in the United Kingdom. I envy the South Africans for having such a clear, unequivocal statement on the limits of government power to discriminate or oppress.

The summary in the Apartheid Museum pictured above reads as follows:

The South African Bill of Rights

• No one may be discriminated against on grounds of race, gender, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, culture or language.
• Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.
• Everyone has the right to life.
• Everyone has the right to freedom and security of person, including the right not to be detained without trial and not to be tortured.
• No one may be subjected to slavery, servitude or forced labour.
• Everyone has the right to privacy.
• Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.
• Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the media.
• Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and present petitions.
• Everyone has the right to freedom of association.
• Everyone is free to make political choices, which includes the right to form a political party and the right to free, fair and regular elections.
• No citizen may be deprived of citizenship.
• Everyone has the right to freedom of movement.
• Everyone has the right to fair labour practices, including the right to form and belong to trade unions and the right to strike.
• Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.
• No one may be deprived of property except in terms of law of general application.
• Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing.
• Everyone has the right to have access to health care services, sufficient food and water.
• Every child has the right to care, basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services.
• Everyone has the right to a basic education.
• Everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice.
• Everyone has the right of access to any information held by the state and by another person where the information is required for the exercise of any rights.
• Everyone who is arrested has the right to remain silent, to be brought before a court within 48 hours and to be released if the interests of justice permit.

The South African Bill of Rights sets the high mark we should all aim for in reforming relations between the people and the state, fighting back against the derogations of civil liberties forced through in consequence of the manufactured and hyped hysteria of the war on terror. Violence, no matter in what form or from what source, should never be the justification for relaxing our vigilence in preserving our rights or our principles.

In this context, one uncomfortable fact I learned in the Apartheid Museum was that it was the British that innovated concentration camps. In the actions to clear South Africa of Boers from 1900 to 1902 they rounded up whole Boer families and kept them in concentration camps. I had thought it was a joint German-Turkish innovation for the Armenian genocide, but it appears the British led in the ethnic cleansing stakes early in the last century.

Go read the South African Bill of Rights - especially if you are a lawyer.

Hat tip to NYCviaRachel on Flickr for the great photo of the Bill of Rights summary at the Apartheid Museum. My picture wasn't clear enough.

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