Advocate Geoff Budlender SC delivers Annual Human Rights Lecture

Advocate Geoff Budlender SC delivered the 9th Annual Human Rights Lecture on Thursday evening, 2 October, organised by the H.F. Oppenheimer Chair in Human Rights Law and the Stellenbosch University Law Faculty. The lecture, entitled Twenty Years of Democracy: The State of Human Rights,  was attended by over 200 guests, including the Acting Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Leopold Van Huysteen, former Constitutional Court judges, Kate O’Regan and Laurie Ackermann, as well as representatives of the legal profession and a range of NGOs and social movements.

 Prof Geo Quinot, Head of Department of Public Law, welcomed the guests on behalf of Law Faculty. He noted that the goal of the lectures as part of the work of the Oppenheimer Chair is to create high profile awareness and debate on key human rights issues by leaders in the field both for student exposure to these issues, but also within the general human rights community in the Western Cape and beyond.

This year’s lecture was dedicated to the memory of our late rector, Prof Russel Botman. Prof Botman was a strong supporter of human rights, which he also championed at the university through his HOPE initiative, which manifested in the law faculty in a project called “Combating Poverty, Homelessness and Socio-Economic Vulnerability under the Constitution”. The lecture was attended by Mrs Beryl Botman and daughter, Roxanne, and the honorary doctorate in law awarded to Prof Botman posthumously by the University of Aberdeen in July this year was displayed at the lecture.

Prof Quinot also thanked the law firm, Webber Wentzel for sponsoring the annual human rights lecture series, which has become a flagship event for the law faculty.

 Introducing the guest speaker, Adv Budlender, Prof Sandra Liebenberg, current incumbent of the Chair in Human Rights Law, described him as one of the finest public interest lawyers of his generation in South Africa.

In a wide ranging lecture, Advocate Budlender focused on how the right to equality in the Constitution could be used more effectively to address the systemic inequalities in people’s access to socio-economic rights such as housing, water and social security. He also addressed the importance of holding powerful private actors accountable for human rights violations through, for example, developing the body of law applicable to contractual relationships, family relations, property and trade.

The second major theme addressed by Adv Budlender was the importance of building and protecting effective institutions of the state to guarantee constitutional rights. He observed that, “without robust and independent institutions, the rights are likely to fail.” Problems were highlighted in relation to key constitutional institutions such as the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions, the Judicial Services Commission, and the recent attacks on the Public Protector. Commenting on the latter Budlender stated: “The attacks on the Public Protector, for doing her job bravely and effectively are a disgrace. One waits to hear someone in authority say that, and say so clearly.”

Finally, he highlighted the serious threat that corruption poses to our constitutional democracy and mooted the idea of following the Hong Kong example of creating an independent institution to investigate corruption, but drawing a line under the past, declaring that matters before the date of the new law will not be investigated. Budlender acknowledged that this would be “a bitter pill” for South Africans to swallow yet “it may well be the only cure for the cancer of corruption.”

Adv Budlender concluded the lecture by noting that ultimately “the best protection for the Constitution is the recognition by South African that it – and the rights it contains – are a vital means of building a society in which all can live in dignity.”

Download the lecture HERE

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