The truism in enjoyment of fundamental human rights in modern days

Pearl Kyomuhendo - Winner of the Human Righs essay competition in commemoration of the UDHR

The idea of human rights is that each one of us, no matter who we are, how we are born or where we are from, each one of us is entitled to the same basic human rights. It is also understandably clear that human rights are not privileges and they cannot be granted by anyone.

The definition of human rights is more descriptive than specific due to different but similar understanding of the concept of human rights. However, from the reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other domestic laws of UN Member States,[1] the concept of human rights means inherent rights to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, religion, nationality, ethnicity or other status[2]  and they are universal in nature.

Although human rights are inherent, its recognition in practice has evolved over time. Following the ruins and massive violation of human rights during World War II, countries came together and formed the United Nations in 1945.

The United Nations Charter, which established the United Nations, emphasized its purpose “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to re affirm faith in fundamental human rights in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women of nations large and small.”

After World War II, countries vowed to ensure mechanisms are cast in place to end future horrors of violation of human rights.

The Member States of the United Nations wanted to capture the human rights provisions of the Charter in a single document, however it took them a period of three years to reach a common position.

The aim of this essay is to provide details and origin of human rights in reflection to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On 10th December 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which basically lays down major human rights. This was in the words of H.V. Evatt[3]“...the first step in a great evolutionary process. It is the first occasion on which the organized community of nations has made a declaration of human rights and fundamental freedoms. And it has authority of the body of the United Nations as a whole and millions of people, men, women and children all over the world, will turn for help and guidance and inspiration to this document.”

Before considering the entire 30 articles of the UDHR, it is imperative to appreciate Article 1 which powerfully proclaims that “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.”

Additionally, the 30 articles of the UDHR elaborate on different fundamental human rights enjoyable by every human being. They include right to equality, right to life, right to a fair hearing, right to liberty and security, right to marry and form a family, freedom from torture and slavery, right to own property, freedom of opinion and expression, right to work and right to participate in cultural life, among others.

The truth from the understanding of the UDHR is that these rights are not country-specific, they are not a reward of good behavior, they are indeed rights of people of every color, race, ethnicity, political opinion or sex, age, sexual orientation or other status. They are simply inherent and God given, to the extent that no one can take them away.

The Declaration emphasizes the relevance of human rights in our lives.

Having noted the praises of the UDHR, one wonders why there is increased violation of human rights. Is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights still more of a dream than a reality?

The following examples picked from different nations represent my assertion that the truth of the matter is that human rights violations are still rampant, despite being well-codified principles.

  1. Somalia has had great increase in civilian casualties, arbitrary arrests and detentions in most areas of Puntland and Hir Shabelle regions as well as Al-Shabaab related abductions, sexual assault, gang rape and other cases depriving the human rights were registered in February 2018.
  2. In Uganda, violations of freedom of association, assembly and expression continue. In 2017, authorities harshly repressed opposition to the government’s removal of the age limit from the constitution; opposition members and journalists have faced arrests and detention without trial.

Having looked at the continued scenarios of massive human rights violations across the world, it is imperative to investigate the main causes of these violations. Amidst every State ratifying international human rights instruments as elaborated in the UN Human Rights Report of 2017,[4] what then is the problem hindering coherent enjoyment of human rights? Some of the causes include the following:

  1.  First of all, the UDHR is just a declaration and not a hard law, and its binding authority depends largely on the mercies of UN Member States.
  2. Lack of political will to implement laws and policies engendered to protect and preserve human rights.
  3. Corruption among the law enforcement agencies which has led to failure to investigate and bring to book all the perpetrators of these violations.
  4. Political insurgencies, for example in Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen among others.
  5. Lack of sensitization among the ordinary citizens of the UN Member States.
  6. Entrenched and barbaric cultural practices, for example female genital mutilation practiced in some parts of Uganda.
  7. Poverty and decreasing standards of living especially in developing countries.
  8. Human rights are always undervalued by security forces due to lack of proper sensitization and training.

However, everyone’s dream is to live in a free world where human beings live together as brothers and sisters, in a world where human rights are absolutely recognized and not threatened, a world where religion, race, political opinion, ethnicity, color will no longer be an issue but a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood.

To achieve the above dream, in my opinion the following recommendations should be highly considered, practiced and emphasized by all UN Member States around the globe and they are as follows:

  1. Member States should ratify and implement all UN human rights treaties.UN should intervene in ensuring that there is compliance with national laws and policies by providing institutionalized training to security officers, judges, prosecutors, religious leaders, cultural leaders and the members of the public.
  2. Member States should uphold their human rights obligations by creating also a fair environment for human right activists and organizations to work coherently without fear of intimidation from state agencies.
  3. A unit among security agencies of every state should be established with a mandate to ensure there is compliance with human rights laws and policies by the security personnel.
  4. UN should urge its Member States to adopt, observe and maintain modern democratic principles of governance, where there is strict compliance of rule of law to avoid and prevent future political insurgencies that have become a major threat of human rights.

 Although it is admittedly clear that having an absolute free society where there is absolute enjoyment of human rights remains a puzzle, it is important that together we can make this world a better place for everyone.

Conclusion 

It goes without saying that the world’s blessing came in 1948 when the World realized the need of having an instrument that embodies all fundamental human rights, and the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To date it has shaped the face of human rights globally.

Although there is existence of elements of challenges and violations of human rights in the world, the UN achievements are still numerous and on that note the sky is the limit. One would wonder without UN’s intervention, what the world would be like. I think the situation would be tense “where man eateth man”.

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[1] For example, chapter 4 of the 1995 Constitution of the republic of Uganda provides for fundamental human rights and freedoms.

[2] Article 2 UDHR: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this 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.”  See also Charter of the United Nations, preamble, Article 1 and Article 55 (c).

[3] He was the President of General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948.

[4] On page 8, it is indicates that, a total of 42 new ratifications of or accessions to the international human rights treaties were deposited with the secretary General, eg Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Malawi, Panama, Myanmar, Republic of Moldova among others.