Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga delivers annual Human Rights Lecture

Human rights obligations must also be imposed on corporates and private individuals if we are to create a socio-economic system that benefit all South Africans.

This was one of the viewpoints of Constitutional Court Judge Mbuyiseli Madlanga on Thursday (30 August 2018). He delivered the 15th annual Human Rights Lecture of the Faculty of Law at Stellenbosch University (SU).  The event was hosted by the HF Oppenheimer Chair for Human Rights Law and formed part of the Faculty’s celebrations of SU’s Centenary as well as Nelson Mandela’s Centenary. Watch the lecture here: https://youtu.be/tvHVQKPTxfM

In his speech, Madlanga said we should not make the mistake to think that only the state can violate human rights.

“Human rights violations can emanate from many sources; not just the state.”

“Some corporations, in particular multinational corporations, are so powerful that it would be folly to continue to train our sights only on the traditional target for challenges against human rights abuses – the state.”

Corporates do violate human rights in how their operations affect people’s lives, added Madlanga.

He mentioned that traditional or conventional thinking has always been that, because human rights “were designed to curb excesses of public power, rather than to regulate ‘private’ commercial or interpersonal relationships”, they are not suited to apply to non-state actor.

Madlanga said that even though the state is unquestionably obliged to honour its human rights obligations, private persons must likewise be so obliged where the fundamental rights in issue are applicable to them.

In this regard he referred to Section 8(2) of the Constitution which expressly imposes human rights obligations on private persons.

“If we refuse to impose human rights obligations on private individuals for fear of interfering with their autonomy, we risk maintaining a perverse status quo which entrenches a social and economic system that privileges those who already have a lot.”

“By imposing certain human rights obligations on private individuals and companies, we acknowledge that our current social and economic realities have arisen out of our perverted past and cannot be sanitised.”

Madlanga said while there’s still a debate in the international law on whether private parties – particularly multinational corporations – ought to have human rights obligations, South Africa is making headway in this regard.

[Alec Basson]

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