Ties between the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC), have been formalised and strengthened after the two entities signed a memorandum of understanding for the promotion, advocacy and protection of the human rights of asylum-seekers, refugees, internally displaced people and stateless persons living in the country.
The SA Human Rights Commission said the agreement will pave the way for increased cooperation between the two entities.
“The MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] enables information sharing, protection interventions on individual cases, consultations, knowledge exchange, as well as cooperation on projects which promote human rights of persons of concern to UNHCR and the SAHRC. Amongst the joint engagements, the SAHRC and UNHCR will advocate progressive policies, legislation, processes and practices for the protection and promotion of human rights,” the SAHRC said on Wednesday.
According to the SAHRC, together, the organisations will promote social cohesion and also “advocate for the inclusion of persons of concern” in South Africa’s national protection plans.
The UNHRC defines a person of concern as an asylum seeker, a refugee, an internally displaced person or a person with no statehood.
“Through the MoU, SAHRC and UNHCR, will take part in initiatives which promote social cohesion and peaceful co-existence between foreigners and South African nationals. In addition, research projects will be conducted to further the advancement of human rights of all persons of concern,” the commission said.
South Africa’s UNHRC Representative Leonard Zulu highlighted that the two organisations share similarities in their work towards the attainment and enjoyment of basic human rights.
“Human rights are at the centre of the protection regime for persons forcibly displaced by conflict, persecution and violence. The congruence of our respective mandates is obvious. A person seeking international protection does so when he or she is no longer able to have national protection of their countries of origin.
“In order to protect this individual, it follows naturally, that the person concerned must enjoy basic and fundamental human rights in the host country. Sadly, this very often does not occur automatically. It then becomes incumbent on institutions such as ours to advocate on their behalf,” he said.