Chief Justice Margaret Marshall celebrates the 50th anniversary of the South African Freedom Charter

On June 16, 2005, Center board member Chief Justice Margaret Marshall spoke at the conference "Human Rights and the South African Freedom Charter: Law, Justice & Political Movements." The conference celebrated the 50th anniversary of the South African Freedom Charter, widely recognized as a document of singular importance to the movement against colonialism and racism.

Chief Justice Marshall spoke of the Freedom Charter as a striking symbol of unwavering commitment to the rule of law, by those who had suffered much under an unchecked oppressive government. Marshall pointed out that, like the Declaration of Independence in the USA, the Freedom Charter is not a constitution, but a political manifesto – a set of rules, a grammar of constitutional rights to which even the government must answer.

Although South Africa has had only 11 years of constitutional democracy, while the USA has had constitutional democracy since 1780, Marshall observed that both nations still have far to go to realize the vision of their founding documents. Critical to continued progress in both contexts, she feels, is judicial independence.

Also speaking at the conference was Chief Justice Pius Langa of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Introductions of the speakers made note of the irony that there were two Chief Justices present, representing both ends of the world, geographically and historically. Chief Justice Marshall is charged with interpreting the oldest constitution in the world, with Chief Justice Langa interpreting one of the youngest.

The day-long conference was sponsored by South Africa Partners, Northeastern University School of Law, and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School.