Human Rights Day is a national holiday in South Africa that is always celebrated on 21 March.
The holiday commemorates the establishment of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
The aim of the SAHRC is to promote respect for human rights, promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights, and to monitor and assess the observance of human rights in SA.
The SAHRC was launched on 21 March 1996, marking exactly 35 years after the events of 21 March 1960 when anti-apartheid demonstrators in Sharpeville were gunned down by police.
The Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952 controlled the movement of Africans to urban areas and required all Africans to carry a reference book on them at all times.
Failure to produce the reference book on demand by the police, was a punishable offence. The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) proposed an anti-Pass campaign to start on 21 March 1960. All African men were to take part in the campaign without their passes and present themselves for arrest.
Campaigners gathered at police stations in townships near Johannesburg where they were dispersed by police. At the Sharpeville police station a scuffle broke out. The police opened fire, apparently without having been given a prior order to do so. Sixty-nine people were killed and 180 wounded.
In apartheid South Africa this day became known as Sharpeville Day.