FEATURED: International Human Rights Day

Today, nations all over the world commemorate the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Here in Rwanda, the United Nations and the Rwandan Government are joining hands to mark this important milestone. The following is the statement from the UN Resident Coordinator for Rwanda, Dr Fodé Ndiaye.

This year’s commemoration of Human Rights Day is special because it marks the 70th anniversary of the adoption of one of the world’s most profound and far-reaching international instrument. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes the equality and dignity of every human being and stipulates that every government has a core duty to enable all people to enjoy all their inalienable rights and freedoms.

All of us have a right to speak freely and participate in decisions that affect our lives. We all have a right to live free from all forms of discrimination. We have a right to education, health care, economic opportunities and a decent standard of living. We have rights to privacy and justice. These rights are relevant to all of us, every day. They are the foundation of peaceful and inclusive societies for shared prosperity and sustainable development.

Since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration in 1948, human rights have been one of the three pillars of the United Nations, along with peace and development. While human rights abuses did not end when the Universal Declaration was adopted, the Declaration has helped countless people to gain greater freedom and security. It has helped to prevent violations, obtain justice for wrongs, and strengthen national and international human rights laws and safeguards.

Despite these advances, the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration are being tested in all regions. We see rising hostility towards human rights and those who defend them by people who want to profit from exploitation and division. We see hatred, intolerance, atrocities and other crimes. These actions imperil us all.

On this Human Rights Day, I want to acknowledge the brave human rights defenders and advocates, including UN staff, who work every day, sometimes in grave peril, to uphold human rights around the world. I urge people and leaders everywhere to stand up for all human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural -- and for the values that underpin our hopes for a fairer, safer and better world for all.

Here in Rwanda, most of the instruments related to human rights have been ratified. With the support of the One-UN those rights and principles are being further integrated in national laws and policies. The process of decentralization is an outstanding example on how to build a society upon the participation of all. This need of participation at all levels is also recognized in the country’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review and the Treaty Bodies mechanisms.

In the domain of human rights, the UN is supporting the Government of Rwanda in many initiatives and programmes aimed at making the attainment of these rights and freedoms possible for all the people of Rwanda. For example, the UN is supporting the inclusive participation in governance through partnerships with the Rwanda Governance Board, National Forum for political parties, the National Electoral Commission, the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, the Rwanda Media Commission, the Judiciary and the Parliament of Rwanda.

We are also making efforts for the improvement of access to justice in Rwanda as there can be no human rights without a true Justice to protect them. UN is also supporting the rights to education, good health including reproductive health, gender equality, access to economic opportunities, inclusion of populations, including people with disabilities, refugees, returnees, citizens living with HIV, to list some of them.The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is an integral part of this effort. The National Commission for Human Rights, the civil society, and of course the Government of Rwanda, are our key partners in increasing the capacity for promoting and protecting Human Rights in Rwanda.

But challenges remain, and the UN is committed to working with all the institutions in Rwanda, governmental and non-governmental ones, to ensure that human rights are respected, protected and indeed promoted in the spirit of the Declaration. One of the ways in which we have been working with the Rwandan society on this is in the process of implementing the recommendations of the Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

Grounded in the principle of equality, the UPR offers a comprehensive review of Human Rights in every country. The review is state-driven, meaning that instead of being examined by experts, states are examined by their peers and equals. Member states commit to imple¬ment the recommendations of the UPR within a 4-year cycle.

Rwanda has come up with a strategy towards compliance with UPR recommendations, a path built upon strong and tangible steps, aiming for results. For example, the reform of the judiciary through the strengthening of the access for all and the reform of legal frames will be the milestone of the Rwanda’s new Justice rooted on the top-education of its members, the consolidation of the independence’s guarantee and the reform of the laws to align them with international standards.

We are committed to partnering with the Government of Rwanda and all national stakeholders to ensure the enjoyment of rights by all. We as the United Nations are committed to standing up for every¬one’s right today. Our United Nations Development Plan(UNDAP 2018-2023) signed on the 31st July 2018 with the Government of Rwanda, is grounded on the human rights-based approach and the overarching principle of “leaving no one behind”.

It provides the framework to partner with the Government, the CSOs, the private sector and other development partners in strengthening the capacity of rights holders and duty bearers in enhancing access to all the rights as stated. Of course, our commitment recognizes the progress made but also highlights the necessity “to increase citizen participation in development process, community transformation and accountability” (Rwanda Governance Scorecard, 2018). The rights enshrined in the Declaration will be enjoyed with full participation of the populations of all sectors of the population, at all levels of governance.

As we just have celebrated the 100th of his anniversary, let me quote Madiba who urged world leaders to “have the courage to ensure that, at last, we build a human world consistent with the provisions of that historic Declaration.”. Who, better than the prisoner of Robben Island could relay the conviction that” The power of the Universal Declaration is the power of ideas to change the world. It inspires us to continue working to ensure all people can gain freedom, equality and dignity.” That is why the theme of today’s commemoration is relevant and apt. And that is why the slogan “stand up for human rights” must be amplified by all, at all time, everywhere.


UN Secretary General’s Message for 2018

UN Secretary General. / Courtesy

For 70 years, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been a global beacon – shining a light for dignity, equality and well-being … and bringing hope to dark places.

The rights proclaimed in the Declaration apply to everyone -- no matter our race, belief, location or other distinction of any kind.

Human rights are universal and eternal.

They are also indivisible.  One cannot pick and choose among civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Today we also honour the human rights defenders risking their lives to protect people in the face of rising hatred, racism, intolerance and repression.

Indeed, human rights are under siege around the world. 

Universal values are being eroded.  The rule of law is being undermined. 

Now more than ever, our shared duty is clear:

Let us stand up for human rights -- for everyone, everywhere.

Thank you.


Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. / Courtesy

Geneva (6 December 2018) - On 10 December, we mark the 70th anniversary of that extraordinary document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is, I firmly believe, as relevant today as it was when it was adopted 70 years ago.

Arguably even more so, as over the passing decades, it has passed from being an aspirational treatise into a set of standards that has permeated virtually every area of international law.

It has withstood the tests of the passing years, and the advent of dramatic new technologies and social, political and economic developments that its drafters could not have foreseen.

Its precepts are so fundamental that they can be applied to every new dilemma.

The Universal Declaration gives us the principles we need to govern artificial intelligence and the digital world.

It lays out a framework of responses that can be used to counter the effects of climate change on people, if not on the planet.

It provides us with the basis for ensuring equal rights for groups, such as LGBTI people, whom few would even dare name in 1948.

Everyone is entitled to all the freedoms listed in the Universal Declaration “without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

The last words of that sentence – “other status” – have frequently been cited to expand the list of people specifically protected. Not just LGBTI people, but also persons with disabilities – who now have a Convention of their own, adopted in 2006. Elderly people, who may get one as well.  Indigenous peoples.  Minorities of all sorts.

Gender is a concept that is addressed in almost every clause of the Declaration. For its time, the document was remarkably lacking in sexist language. The document refers to “everyone,” “all” or “no one” throughout its 30 Articles.

This trailblazing usage reflects the fact that, for the first time in the history of international law-making, women played a prominent role in drafting the Universal Declaration.

The role of Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the drafting committee is well known. Less well known is the fact that women from Denmark, Pakistan, the Communist bloc and other countries around the world also made crucial contributions.

Indeed it is thanks primarily to the Indian drafter Hansa Mehta, that the French phrase “all men are born free and equal,” taken from the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, became in the Universal Declaration “all human beings are born free and equal.”

A simple but – in terms of women’s rights and of minority rights – revolutionary phrase.

Hansa Mehta objected to Eleanor Roosevelt’s assertion that “men” was understood to include women – the widely-accepted idea at that time. She argued that countries could use this wording to restrict the rights of women, rather than expand them.

Born out of the devastation of two World Wars, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Holocaust, the Universal Declaration is geared to prevent similar disasters, and the tyranny and violations which caused them. It sets out ways to prevent us from continuing to harm each other, and aims to provide us with “freedom from fear and want.”

It sets limits on the powerful, and inspires hope among the powerless.

Over the seven decades since its adoption, the Universal Declaration has underpinned countless beneficial changes in the lives of millions of people across the world, permeating some 90 national Constitutions and numerous national, regional and international laws and institutions.

But, 70 years after its adoption, the work the Universal Declaration lays down for us to do is far from over. And it never will be.

In 30 crystal-clear articles, the Universal Declaration shows us the measures which will end extreme poverty, and provide food, housing, health, education, jobs and opportunities for everyone.

It lights the path to a world without wars and Holocausts, without torture or famine or injustice. A world where misery is minimized and no one is too rich or powerful to evade justice.

A world where every human has the same worth as every other human, not just at birth but for the duration of their entire lives.

The drafters wanted to prevent another war by tackling the root causes, by setting down the rights everyone on the planet could expect and demand simply because they exist – and to spell out in no uncertain terms what cannot be done to human beings.

The poor, the hungry, the displaced and the marginalized – drafters aimed to establish systems to support and protect them.

The right to food and to development is crucial. But this has to be achieved without discrimination on the basis of race, gender or other status. You cannot say to your people – I will feed you, but I won’t let you speak or enjoy your religion or culture.

The rights to land and adequate housing are absolutely basic – and yet in some countries, austerity measures are eroding those very rights for the most vulnerable.

Climate change can undermine the right to life, to food, to shelter and to health. These are all related – and the Universal Declaration and international human rights conventions provide a roadmap to their achievement.

I am convinced that the human rights ideal, laid down in this Declaration, has been one of the most constructive advances of ideas in human history – as well as one of the most successful.

But today, that progress is under threat.

We are born ‘free and equal,’ but millions of people on this planet do not stay free and equal. Their dignity is trampled and their rights are violated on a daily basis.

In many countries, the fundamental recognition that all human beings are equal, and have inherent rights, is under attack. The institutions so painstakingly set up by States to achieve common solutions to common problems are being undermined.

And the comprehensive web of international, regional and national laws and treaties that gave teeth to the vision of the Universal Declaration is also being chipped away by governments and politicians increasingly focused on narrow, nationalist interests.

We all need to stand up more energetically for the rights it showed us everyone should have – not just ourselves, but all our fellow human beings – and which we are at constant risk of eroding through our own, and our leaders’ forgetfulness, neglect or wanton disregard.

I will end, where the Universal Declaration begins, with the powerful promise – and warning – contained in the first lines of its Preamble:
“…Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

“…Disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief, and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.

“…It is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse as a last resort to rebellion against tyranny and oppression that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”

And we would do well to pay more attention to the final words of that same Preamble:

“…every individual and every organ of society keeping this Declaration constantly in mind shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms  and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

We have come a long way down this path since 1948. We have taken many of progressive measures prescribed by the Universal Declaration at the national and international levels.

But we still have a long way to go, and too many of our leaders seem to have forgotten these powerful and prophetic words. We need to rectify that, not just today, not just on the 70th anniversary next Monday, but every day, every year.

Human rights defenders the world over are on the frontlines of defending the Universal Declaration through their work, their dedication and their sacrifice. No matter where we live or what our circumstances are, most of us do have the power to make a difference – to make our homes, communities, countries, and our world better – or worse – for others. Each of us needs to do our part to breathe life into the beautiful dream of the Universal Declaration.

For this was the gift of our ancestors, to help us avoid ever having to go through what they went through.


Statement by the National Commission on Human Rights of Rwanda

Every year, on December 10th, the world observes the International Human Rights Day following the adoption by the United Nations, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10th December 1948.

The UDHR is a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Viewed as the most universal human rights document in existence, delineating the thirty fundamental rights that form the basis for a democratic society, it also represents a common statement of the goals and aspirations regarding human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This year’s celebration is a culmination of a year-long campaign that started last year to mark the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is an opportunity to reaffirm the universal values and enduring principles enshrined in the declaration, mobilize people around the world and take stock of human rights development today. The 2018 universal theme is “Stand up for human rights”. The theme allows an intense and profound reflection on the continuing and vital importance of each and every one of the 30 articles contained in this extraordinary document.

Generally, the International Human Rights Day is celebrated by Governments and Non-Governmental Organizations that are active in the human rights promotion and protection whereby they organize conferences, meetings, exhibitions, cultural events, debates and many more events to discuss issues pertaining to human rights with a focus on empowering people to know their rights.

Ahead of the celebration, the UN human Rights office launched a year-long campaign: “Stand Up for Human Rights” that aims to promote the rights enshrined in the Declaration and what the UDHR means in our daily lives; engage broad audiences across the world and mobilize people for human rights; and reflect on progress and challenges, and ways that each of us can stand up for human rights.

The Declaration has also served as the foundation for an expanding human rights protection system that today focuses also on vulnerable groups such as disabled persons, indigenous peoples and migrant workers.

It is the foundation of international human rights law, the first universal statement on the basic principles of inalienable human rights, and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. The Universal Declaration consists of a preamble and 30 articles, setting out a broad range of fundamental human rights and freedoms to which all men and women, everywhere in the world, are entitled, without any distinction. It begins by recognizing that “the inherent dignity of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” and declares that human rights are universal to be enjoyed by all people, no matter who they are or where they live.

The Universal Declaration includes civil and political rights, like the right to life, liberty, free speech and privacy. It also includes economic, social and cultural rights, like the right to social security, health and education

Today, it is an opportune moment to emphasize the living document’s enduring relevance, its universality, and that it has everything to do with all of us.

Human Rights Day Celebrations in Rwanda

In Rwanda, the day will be celebrated under the theme “Stand up for human rights: The responsibility of each actor.”

In collaboration with its partners, including government institutions and Organizations of the Civil Society working in the area of human rights, the National Commission for Human Rights will join the International Community to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A two weeks long commemorative campaign has been launched on November 30th, with the Outreach program during Umuganda of November 2018 and commemorative activities included but not limited to the following:

1. High level multi-stakeholders conference to take place in Parliament today, December 10th, with the theme: “Stand up for Human Rights: role of rights holders and duty bearers in promoting and protecting human rights in Rwanda’’.

2. Multiplication and dissemination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights document to raise awareness on the basis human rights principles enshrined in the UDH document;

3. Training of select Journalists on UDHR and on human rights principles and their contribution on to the promotion, the protection and effective realization of human rights;

4. Conferences in 16 tertiary institutions around the Country on the UDHR, its relevance in advancement of Human Rights culture among Rwandans, especially youth, and its domestication and implementation in Rwanda.

National Commission for Human Rights

As provided for by Article 42 of the Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda of 2003 revised in 2015, the promotion of human rights is a responsibility of the State which is particularly entrusted to the National Commission for Human Rights.

The National Commission for Human Rights was established by the Law N° 04/99 of 12 March 1999 which has often been amended in order to provide more power and responsibilities to the Commission.

As of today, the Commission is governed by the Law No 19/2013 of 25/03/2013 modified by Law N° 61/2018 of 24/08/2018 determining mission, organization and functioning of the Commission. By this law, the Commission has the overall mission of promoting and protecting Human Rights. It is an independent and permanent institution with a legal personality and autonomy in its administrative and financial matters.

Regarding the promotion of human rights, the National Commission for Human Rights educates and sensitizes the population on matters relating to human rights.

Moreover, the Commission provides views, upon request or at its own initiative on laws, regulations of public organs in force in the country and bills so as to ensure their conformity to fundamental principles of Human Rights.

The Commission carries out research on thematic issues and publishes findings with the purpose of promoting human rights.

Regarding the protection of human rights, the Commission receives, examines and investigates complaints relating to human rights violations and then urges relevant authorities to address identified cases of violation.

The National Commission for Human Rights values the extent to which the respect of human rights in Rwanda has been protected and promoted since 1994, in efforts to reverse the impact of the injustice of the past and serious human rights violations and culture of impunity that characterized the post-independence Rwanda.


Family Planning is a Human Right: Delivering on the promise of family planning in hard to reach places in Rwanda

During 6 day’s campaign in Karongi district, 3,495 people received family planning methods, with 49.6 per cent chose to use long-term contraception including two men who opted for a vasectomy. The contraceptive prevalence rate for married women in Karongi district stands at 37.7 per cent – one of the lowest in the country. In the spirit of leaving no one behind, with a theme this year’s national commemoration considered the rural Rwankuba Sector to bring FP services closer to the rural people and support those affected by heavy rainfall and landslides.

As FP is a human right and a choice for all, not only left for women but also men, Nsengimana Jean de Dieu and his wife Mukabutera Seraphine residents of Rwankuba Sector shared a testimony how family planning was a key factor to their improved well-being and a living  example in their village. Nsengimana underwent vasectomy as his choice of family planning to help his wife who had previously used family planning methods but got undesirable side effects. Since the couple didn’t want to have more children, he accepted to go
for vasectomy as sensitized by health providers that there were no health risks associated to the method. “When you have a particular number of children and well-spaced, you plan for their needs responsibly. This leaves you with enough resources to plan for the future leading to the development of the household and the country in general,” Nsengimana says.

The couple has three children and had an incredible spacing with an interval of five years in between. Nsengimana says this was only possible because of the use of family planning that he personally took as his responsibility to support his wife. “My children have never gone hungry or failed to attend school or failed to have appropriate clothing. With the little money we earn with my wife, I have managed to give my family a decent living,” he narrates. Nsengimana, therefore calls onto other parents to embrace family planning because the benefits stretch right back to society in general.

Fifty years ago, the world declared that “parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children,” at the United Nations International Conference on Human Rights in Tehran, on 13 May 1968.” The Government of Rwanda has made various investments in family planning services including training health providers, equipping health facilities, procument of FP methods and put in place favorable policies for the well-being of the citizens.