South Africa

For many years, South Africa’s apartheid system was held up as an international symbol of rights abuses. With the end of apartheid in 1994, the country emerged as a focal point around the world for rights debates and jurisprudence, with its constitution viewed by many as a symbol of success. At the same time, the transformation that began in 1994 has yet to be completed. The country continues to grapple with the unfinished business of its Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the realization of social and economic rights, and concerns about corruption and the rule of law.

The Human Rights Program has deep ties to South Africa and undertakes ongoing work on a variety of human rights issues in partnership with South African attorneys, advocates, academics, and human rights organizations.


The Clinic’s 2009 book includes a foreword by playwright and actor John Kani.

Since 2012, the Clinic has partnered with Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) on multiple litigation and advocacy projects to protect and promote the right to education. For example, the Clinic has supported EELC’s case against the Minister of Basic Education to compel her to promulgate legally binding norms and standards for school infrastructure. The case settled in late 2012, with the Minister agreeing to publish draft regulations for public comment and to then promulgate such regulations. The Clinic helped review two sets of draft proposals and prepare detailed commentaries outlining concerns and feedback to improve the regulations. ELLC secured a major victory in November 2013 when the Minister published final and binding norms and standards for school infrastructure. It is now the law that every school in the country must have water, electricity, internet, working toilets, safe classrooms with a maximum of 40 students, security, and eventually libraries, laboratories, and sports facilities.

Since 2005, the Clinic has been part of an Alien Tort Statute suit, In re South African Apartheid Litigation, brought by South African plaintiffs against major multinational corporations that are alleged to have aided and abetted the apartheid regime to commit egregious human rights violations. In particular, the case alleges that, through policies and decisions made in the United States, Defendant Ford directed and controlled the sale of specialized vehicles to the South African security forces to suppress the black population, while Defendant IBM created and maintained an identity card system to denationalize the black population. Most recently, in February 2016, the Clinic and co-counsel filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2009, the Clinic released a book entitled Prosecuting Apartheid-Era Crimes? A South African Dialogue on Justice, which analyzes whether perpetrators of apartheid-era crimes who were not granted amnesty by the TRC should be prosecuted. The book presents narratives and reflections from former TRC Commissioners, government officials, attorneys, members of civil society, and survivors of apartheid.

The Clinic has also worked with many partners, including the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) on a range of economic, social, and cultural rights, including: the right to housing in inner-city Johannesburg; the right to water; the challenge of sexual violence committed against students; the effects of mining on communities and their rights; and the customary legal system’s effects on rights. Since 2012, the Clinic has partnered with Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) on multiple litigation and advocacy projects to protect and promote the country’s right to education.

In addition to teaching a clinical seminar on contemporary human rights in South Africa, Giannini and Farbstein have also been involved for several years in an exchange with South African academics and practitioners about the human rights clinical pedagogy.

The Academic Program also has a strong emphasis on South Africa. Most recently it has focused on gender justice and health and human rights in prisons. Over the years, it has also hosted Visiting Fellows, including Christof Heyns and Rashida Manjoo, both previously UN Special Rapporteurs addressing extrajudicial killings and violence against women respectively.

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