Human Rights? What’s that? The Economist carried a story filed from Johannesburg, South Africa on the 14th October 2010 with the above headline.
It poured scorn on President Jacob Zuma’s government for not living up to Nelson Mandela’s promise of putting human rights at the heart of South Africa’s foreign policy.
The Economist may well have asked the right question, although its intention was obviously to ridicule.
When human rights groups speak of human rights, one is left wondering exactly what these rights are, or indeed whose they are.
Since the start of this year, and for much longer, we have heard so much noise from various human rights groups that our ears have become sore. And just when we think we are about to get some respite from the unwelcome noise, they ratchet up the din and the pain returns.
Mark you, the pain is not caused by the noise itself, but more by the incomprehensible and discordant definition of human rights by these groups.
Take the latest example. Last week a certain Victoire Ingabire was arrested on very serious charges of forming, funding and arming an illegal armed group to destabilize the country and eventually overthrow the legally constituted government of Rwanda.
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that such activities would lead to the loss of numerous lives of ordinary people and untold destruction of their property. Those fortunate not to perish in the violence that Ingabire and her armed bands would be denied the right to go about their lawful; businesses to earn a living. In short the human rights of ordinary Rwandans would be violated.
But the moment the police picked up Ingabire in order to protect the rights of the majority of Rwandans, international human rights groups, led by (who else?) Human Rights Watch was up in arms protesting her arrest. The excuse for so much concern? The rights of their protégée will not be respected.
Carina Tertsakian demanded in her usual insolent manner: “We are asking that the Rwanda Government fully respect the rights of opposition leaders and allow them to carry out their legitimate activities…”
Pray, what are these legitimate activities? Do they also include the right to visit terror on ordinary Rwandans, deny them their right to life, to a safe and secure environment in which they can exercise their other rights? If we are to take Human Rights Watch at their word, this is what they mean.
It also means that the removal of a legally-constituted government by unconstitutional means is a human right. They are obviously good students and have taken to heart lessons about regime change. For those who may not know it, regime change is code for illegal removal of a government.
Incidentally we do not hear anything from Leslie Haskell. She is supposed to be Human Rights Watch researcher in Rwanda. All the noise and vitriol still comes from Tertsakian.
Despite distraction caused by the angry voices, Rwanda marches on. At the time the out of tune voices were being raised, our president was in Rome making a pitch for global efforts to end hunger in the world. Now hunger, in a world of plenty, is inexcusable as President Paul Kagame said.
It is bad for the dignity of people subjected to it. Rolling back hunger and restoring people’s dignity is a cause worth fighting for. More, freedom from hunger is a right.
That’s what Rwanda has been doing – ensuring that Rwandans have enough food for their families and for the market. Hunger in the country now belongs to the past. President Kagame was sharing his experience with the rest of the world and urging them to invest in food production so as to ensure the right to life of millions of inhabitants of our fair planet.
That should have drowned out the shrill noises of the too-eager, but hypocritical whistle blowers. And it has, certainly in Rwanda.
Before raising the alarm about a person hell-bent on destruction, the same professional ‘alarm sounders’ should have noticed the remarkable progress in education which is empowering young Rwandans with the knowledge and skills to enable them to lead more satisfying lives. They should have seen the firm strides into the future and should have applauded. I am sure they know that an educated population is best able to protect its rights.
They should be singing with the rest of the world about the tremendous improvements in child and maternal health, the incredible reduction in the incidence of malaria and other killer diseases, and universal health insurance.
They should see in the advances in agriculture, education and health the surest means of, not only protecting people’s rights, but also ensuring that there are people to enjoy those rights. But no, they will not. Instead they will keep on about some individuals bent on destroying what Rwandans have built.
The right for one individual to pull down the achievements of 11 million people takes precedence over those people’s rights to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
Apparently human rights are reserved for the likes of Ingabire who has a destructive agenda, and denied those who want to construct and preserve our common heritage; they are the preserve of those who want to turn the clock back and denied the majority who are determined to march forward.
This definition of human rights is perverted, nay, it is obscene.