The Dullah Omar Institute started its work under the name 'Community Law Centre', an organisation borne out of the struggle against apartheid. The Community Law Centre opened its doors in 1990 with the help of the Ford Foundation. Adv Dullah Omar, a human rights lawyer, was its first director. The Centre played a major role in the negotiations towards a democratic South Africa. First staff members included prominent activists such as Bulelani Ngcuka, Dr Zola Skweyiya, and Brigitte Mabandla. Working with Albie Sachs and Prof Kader Asmal they participated in the constitutional negotiations. Ever since our inception, we have been a major contributor to policy formulation for South Africa’s constitutional order and increasingly, elsewhere on the continent.
In 2015, the Community Law Centre was renamed into the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights to honour our founding director and the first Minister of Justice in a democratic South Africa. We host the prestigious Dullah Omar Memorial Lecture to pay tribute to the rich legacy of the late Adv Dullah Omar.
Key initiatives and achievements
Every year, the Institute produces more than 50 articles, books and research reports and hosts more than 20 workshops, conferences and seminars. It houses professorial and research staff of national and international repute including three NRF-rated researchers.
- The Institute has produced over 10 doctoral graduates in the last 5 years, many of whom are staff members
- In 2012, the Institute was active in 22 out of the 54 countries in Africa, making critical contributions to governance and human rights on the continent
- The Institute successfully intervened in landmark Constitutional Court cases, such as Grootboom (on the right of access to housing) and Treatment Action Campaign matter (on the provision of anti-retroviral medication to HIV positive pregnant mothers)
- The Institute has observer status with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
- The Institute provides leadership, support and input into numerous civil society alliances on women’s rights, socio-economic rights, rights of persons with disabilities, maternal health rights, etc.
- The Institute produces a unique series of indices and barometers, tracking issues such as civic protests, government’s audit performance and city capability.
- The Institute is the leader in research on pretrial justice and the eradication of torture.
- In 2012, the Institute was awarded a National Research Foundation Chair in Multilevel Government Law and Policy, now held by its former Director, Prof Nico Steytler
- In 2015, Prof Mezmur, head of the Institute’s Children’s Rights Project was appointed Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The Institute works in five areas, namely children’s rights, socio-economic rights, multilevel government, criminal justice reform and women’s rights.
The Children’s Rights Project (CRP), headed by Prof Benyam Dawit Mezmur, undertakes research, advocacy, and technical support activities related to the formulation and implementation of law and policy in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (African Children’s Charter).
The Applied Constitutional Studies Laboratory (ACSL), headed by Associate Professor Derek Powell, undertakes innovative applied inter-disciplinary research into governance problems at the intersection of the law, the state and the socio-economic context. It uses big data to (1) assess the impact of law and policy in society (2) measure the resilience, capability and fragility of national, provincial and local governments and (3) track key social issues.
Prof Nico Steytler is the SARChI Chair in Multilevel Government, Law and Development. The Chair was established in 2013 and is about how development in South Africa, and elsewhere in Africa, can be advanced through multi-level governance (MLG) embedded in the rule of law.
The Socio-economic Rights Project (SERP), headed by Assistant Professor Ebenezer Durojaye, promotes the realisation of socio-economic rights in South Africa and the African region. It conducts engaged, multi-disciplinary research, human rights education and actively campaigns around key social justice issues.
The Women and Democracy Initiative, headed by Ms Samantha Waterhouse, promotes democracy and the implementation of human rights, with a specific focus on women’s rights. It promotes the independence of and strengthens legislatures through engaging in their law-making and oversight functions.
The Institute resorts under the University of the Western Cape’s Faculty of Law. It comprises approximately 30 staff - researchers, doctoral and post-doctoral researchers and support staff. It is advised by an Advisory Board. The Institute is headed by Prof Jaap de Visser assisted by Mrs Virginia Brookes as Chief Operations Manager. It operates an annual budget of close to 20 Million Rand, drawn from the University and more than 30 grants, provided by national and international funders.