The law should be used for a just purpose and rights should be a medicine to create equality; this should be a source of inspiration for lawyers in any country. These were the words of South African judge Edwin Cameron during the Racial Segregation and Fundamental Rights conference at the Universidad of los Andes’ Faculty of Social Sciences.
Cameron highlighted that Colombia and South Africa, more than being middle-income countries and having a similar population, also share that despite their democracies being on a knife edge, their judges have been willing to use their power to defend the constitution.
“The law should protect equality, and this should be an inspiration to continue the struggle”, added Cameron who is a human rights activist and who has participated in different transnational justice mechanisms during South Africa’s transition to democracy.
His visit was an opportunity to find out in detail about the lessons related to transition processes. There have been three decades of process since South Africa’s apartheid and, as such, the judge did not hesitate in assuring that both activists and academia can contribute through the important work they have carried out, especially by persuading people. However, he explained that the elite’s social and political commitment is fundamental.
He also added that lawyers need to be instrumental in these social processes as they will seek to make this transition towards a peace based on justice. Thus, the role of law will be to guide and facilitate this path.
According to Cameron, today South African society coexists in a better way. “There is still racism, but it is completely inacceptable to make a racist or homophobic comment”. As part of this struggle to topple apartheid, it was vital to use the law against the system.
In the judge’s own words, the law should assure dignity and equality and ennoble the human spirit, but this was not what was happening. For this reason, Nelson Mandela’s message was that the laws were not just. As a result of the new constitution that was written in the 1990s, diversity was written in the preamble.
During his speech, Cameron pointed out the points that have led him to build, as a lawyer, a sense of law based on social justice: being born white, poor, homosexual, and then later the humiliation of contracting HIV. “There is much stigmatization against marginalized people’s, and every one of them has a feeling of being excluded. For this reason, laws must be used for just ends”, he said.
Another one of his causes is the rights of people with HIV/ AIDS, and Edwin Cameron explains that there is still silence and fear surrounding this epidemic, which is the same as in Colombia.
He stated that in South Africa, he joined a group of academics and went to court so that the president implemented the antiretroviral treatments that had saved his life. “Today we have the biggest program of its kind, but it was a struggle which involved the constitution’s social and economic rights being imposed on the government”, concluded Cameron.
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