Rights com­mis­sion starts hunt for tal­ent

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - JANET SMITH

SHORTLIST­ING for South African’s new hu­man rights com­mis­sion­ers be­gins on Tues­day, and it looks likely that more than the cur­rent five peo­ple may be cho­sen to lead the na­tional in­sti­tu­tion.

The term of Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (HRC) chair­man Jody Kol­lapen and his fel­low com­mis­sion­ers con­cludes at the end of Septem­ber, leav­ing the jus­tice port­fo­lio com­mit­tee with only six weeks to present its list to Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma.

Kol­lapen, who was se­lected as chair­man in 2002 af­ter head­ing Lawyers for Hu­man Rights, said this week that he ex­pected the names on the short­list would be of peo­ple who had “a track record”, but who also “un­der­stand what in­de­pen­dence means”.

DA shadow min­is­ter for jus­tice and con­sti­tu­tional de­vel­op­ment Dene Smuts, who sits on the jus­tice port­fo­lio com­mit­tee, said it was im­per­a­tive that “we find peo­ple who can take the ba­ton and con­tinue the very fine tra­di­tion of the sit­ting com­mis­sion­ers”.

Al­though there is no dis­cre­tion for Zuma, who will be ex­pected to sign on the dot­ted line once the choice of com­mis­sion­ers has been made by Par­lia­ment, there has been de­bate over the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion Act which de­ter­mines the scope of the HRC.

The com­mis­sion – which was in­au­gu­rated in Oc­to­ber 1995 – de­rives its pow­ers only from the con­sti­tu­tion and the act, al­though it is can be given ad­di­tional pow­ers by na­tional leg­is­la­tion.

It must en­trench con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy, ad­dress hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and raise aware­ness of hu­man rights is­sues. Pro­mul­gated as the first law in the first postdemoc­racy Par­lia­ment at the time of the in­terim con­sti­tu­tion, the act pro­vided for a chair­man and 10 mem­bers, ask­ing only for a min­i­mum of five com­mis­sion­ers.

Smuts, who said the com­mit­tee dis­cussed the le­gal po­si­tion on the num­ber on Thurs­day, con­firmed there was “scope for more peo­ple” for the Chap­ter Nine in­sti­tu­tion.

“We are likely to end up with six or seven if we can solve the bud­getary as­pect, and of course any num­ber is bet­ter than five. We want to be in­clu­sive and not miss any tal­ent,” she ex­plained.

“We can’t make it too long be­cause we run the risk of be­ing waste­ful. It’s tax­pay­ers’ money ev­ery time we fly some­one in for an in­ter­view, so it’s help­ful to set a tar­get num­ber.”

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