Lawyers for Human Rights has six programme areas that focus on promoting and protecting rights of the marginalised in post-apartheid South Africa.

Strategic Litigation Programme

Strategic Litigation Programme litigates strategic and public interest cases that have the potential to improve the law and make a difference in peoples’ lives. The programme is active in its own litigation projects, as well as in supporting the litigation of LHR’s other programmes.

The Programme’s objective is to use the law as a positive instrument for change and to deepen the democratisation of South African society. To this end, it provides legal services free of charge to vulnerable, marginalised, and indigent individuals and to communities whose constitutional rights have been infringed.

The Programme has achieved many successes since its inception in 2003. It focuses much of its attention on ensuring just administrative action for indigent persons and communities. A considerable amount of time is also spent on refugee law and labour matters, as well as combatting unfair discrimination.

The Programme features four distinct units:

  • The Labour Rights Unit
  • The Detention Monitoring Unit
  • The Right to Protest Unit
  • International Criminal Law Unit

Labour Unit

LHR has a long and successful track record as an advocate for human rights in the workplace. The Programme’s labour unit specialises in litigating on behalf of workers, focusing primarily on the rights of low-income workers in vulnerable employment settings. To strengthen protections for to low-paid and precarious workers, we have been involved in the national campaign against labour broking. As a part of this campaign we seek to improve workers’ access to justice, to prevent employers from escaping their legal responsibilities, and to ensure that all workers are treated fairly.

LHR has represented groups of workers at various arbitrations and Labour Court reviews. LHR has also intervened in several strategic matters that have set out the proper interpretation and application of laws enacted to protect labour broker workers.

Protest Unit

At LHR, we believe that the right to protest lies at the heart of South Africa’s modern democracy. The right to protest is an essential element of a free society, a sword with which to attack unjust systems and a shield against unfair treatment. LHR stands for everyone’s right to protest in South Africa.

LHR’s protest unit uses litigation and public education initiatives to guard protesters against unfair treatment. In 2015, LHR, together with other organisations in the sector, convened to form what is now known as the Right 2 Protest entity (R2P). LHR continues to play a key role in the Right 2 Protest network’s steering committee. The network seeks to help communities overcome the obstacles faced by those exercising their right to protest.

International Criminal Law Unit

International criminal law deals with the criminal responsibility of individuals for the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The main categories of international crimes are war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and the crime of aggression. LHR recognises that criminal accountability for the most heinous crimes is critically important to providing victims with redress and justice, as well as to deterring future violations. These types of crimes not only affect a considerable number of victims, but they also destabilise regions and economies. We are committed using litigation as tool towards ensuring South Africa’s judicial system plays its part in upholding International Criminal Law.


To get in touch with the Head of the Strategic Litigation Programme, call the Johannesburg LHR office at 011 339 1960.

Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme/Statelessness

LHR established the Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme (RMRP) in 1996. Walk-in law clinics provide legal advice and representation, to ensure due process for asylum seekers and refugees. The programme also builds networks and is part of the social justice movement to combat xenophobia through engagement and education at community level. We advocate for the prevention of xenophobia, and work to promote access to protection for asylum seekers and refugees.

Penal Reform Programme

South Africa’s prisons and penal system have been plagued by grave concerns for years despite their being robust and progressive legislation protecting the rights of accused persons and sentenced offenders. The Penal Reform Programme is a response to the growing need for the protection and fulfilment of such rights. We seek to achieve this through strategic litigation, research and advocacy.

Land and Housing Programme

The Land and Housing Programme aims to protect the constitutional property rights of all disadvantaged and vulnerable people in South Africa. The programme is a leading advocate in efforts to address failed land reform programs, land claims, developing common law and ownership, regularising legal entities holding land, communal land and mining issues, large scale evictions, and other property rights.

Environmental Rights Programme

The Environmental Rights Programme focuses on environmental justice for marginalised communities and individuals. It seeks to promote and enforce the constitutional environmental right, as well as a just distribution of environmental benefits and burdens in our society more generally.

Gender Equality Programme

The Gender Equality Programme pursues systemic remedies for gender-based violence and discrimination in South Africa and the region. It also provides capacity and technical expertise to other LHR programmes. The programme serves women and girls, and LGBTIQ+ communities.

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