Sixteen days ago, Rwanda and the rest of the world observed the International Day against violence against women, a day that marked the beginning of a series of important days and events in the human rights calendar.
Today, 10th December, is the International Human Rights day. This day also marks the end of what has commonly been referred to as ‘The 16 Days”.
Sixty years ago, the world adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was a landmark event, as the nations of the world joined together to try and bury the spectre of genocide raised by the Second World War.
Individuals and organisations use this day as an opportunity to commemorate the signing of the Human Rights Declaration and to promote the principles that it embodies.
According to former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, Human Rights Day is “an occasion to demonstrate that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not theoretical or abstract.”
This Declaration was one of the first major achievements of the United Nations and provided the basic philosophy for many legally binding international instruments to follow.
Resolution 217A (III) by the General Assembly proclaims the “Universal declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms…”
What are these rights and what are these freedoms? What can we in Rwanda and the rest of Africa celebrate on this day? Do we have anything to celebrate?
Human rights refer to the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. These are often held to include the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law, the right to participate in culture, the right to food, the right to work and the right to education.
If ever there was a fantastic beginning to any document, the Declaration, in my opinion takes the price. The first of the 30 articles therein reads: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
The second article states that everyone is entitled to these rights and freedoms irrespective of their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Unfortunately, as one reads this, there are vivid reminders of racial, social and political discrimination in our world today.
‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person’, the third article declares. Pray tell who considered the plight of civilian casualties, mainly women and children in the DR Congo conflict recently?
These represent the millions whose lives have been disrupted or prematurely cut short – they too had a right to life, liberty and security.
Two articles further down, states in part that ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or degrading treatment or punishment’, and one cannot help but remember the inhuman treatment inmates in a Kenyan prison were recently subjected to, in what the incarceration institution termed as an exercise to rid the prison of cell phones and other contraband items.
Disgraceful images on a local TV channel showed the inmates, lying prostrate on the ground, stripped naked as Wardens lashed at them with whips and canes.
‘Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being for themselves and their family including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services’, the Declaration states. But as I write this, the death toll in Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak has just risen: women have had to watch as their children succumb to it.
Article nine states that, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”. This is irrespective of the allegations presented or the supposed political and economic power of the accusers.
At the time of her arrest therefore, Chief of State Protocol’s, Madame Rose Kabuye’s rights were grossly violated.
However, it was by this very Declaration that the wheels of justice begun to churn, for the document also states that “everyone has the right of recognition everywhere as a person before the law” and that all are equal before the law and entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.
In the Universal Human Rights Declaration, education is extolled as a right for all. Today, many countries have incorporated the Education for All initiative, making primary education mandatory for all.
The Document declares that everyone has the right to freely participate in cultural community life and enjoy art among others; the right of movement within one’s borders and to other countries; the right of association and participation in government and also the right; the right to form and join associations that protect ones interest; the right to rest and leisure and periodic holidays with pay, just to mention the few rights that are widely observed by most governments and institutions.
As we mark this year’s Human Rights day under the theme – Human Rights for Women = Human Rights for all, we celebrate the hope that one day the principles of the Declaration will be those by which we live and by which we judge, universally.