“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. […] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”– Eleanor Roosevelt
The commemoration of International Human Rights day, calls for each of us to stop and ponder on whether or not the majority of Zimbabweans are actually aware of their human rights and if they are aware of them, do they know how to enforce them and do they have room to enforce them? What can we each do to make the situation better?
Human Rights Day has been commemorated on the 10th of December every year since 1948. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was passed in the United Nations General Assembly on this day with only 10 countries either in absentia or abstaining to vote. The UDHR was a great shift to how rights were considered and defined on the international stage. For the first time men and women were considered equals, equal pay was to be given for equal work and minority rights were to be observed. At the time these rights were nothing short of radical.
Defining Human Rights
Human rights are inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as human beings. They seek to protect and promote the wellbeing and freedom of the people. And they act as a shield which citizens can use when faced with injustices. Human rights range from the right to marry to the right to have a family and the right not to be treated unfairly and discriminated against based on gender or sex. Human rights have also evolved over the past few decades. New age inventions such as the internet are now considered as human rights and access to information is now considered a right as well. Necessities such as access to water and access to healthcare also now fall under the umbrella of human rights.
Youth Standing Up For Human Rights
This year is the 71st year that Human Rights Day is being commemorated. The theme for this year is “Youth Standing Up for Human Rights”. This reminds us that more and more, young people around the world are taking up the task of keeping governments accountable. More and more young people are realising that in order to have a better tomorrow, they need to ensure that human rights are observed today.
According to popular human rights watchdog, Freedom House, Zimbabwe is said to have a freedom score of 31/100 with 100 being the most free and 0 being the least free. When it comes to political and civil rights we score 5/7 with 7 being the least free and 0 being the most free. Overall, Zimbabwe is considered a partly free nation by Freedom House. It must be noted that our status changed from not free to partly free in 2017. Although political and civil rights do not encompass the whole story of human rights day, these figures help us to map out where we are and how much more to go we have. The Ibrahim Index of African Governance has ranked Zimbabwe 44/54 on African countries protecting human rights. The Index has also said that there is a likelihood that there will be 75% of human rights abuses by the government in every case and that there is only 22% of freedom of expression. Zimbabwe also has a score of 27.6 out of 100 regarding human rights observances. Overall our ratings when it comes to human rights indicators are found wanting. We have to take more effective and reasonable steps in order to turn this around.
Constitutional Rights are Human Rights
In Zimbabwe, human rights have been domesticated through the Bill of Rights in the 2013 Constitution. In the Bill of Rights, men and women are considered to be equal. And children are given extensive rights. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and every other law inconsistent with it is invalid. Zimbabwe has also committed itself to other international organisations apart from the United Nations such as the African Union and the Southern African Development Community which both highlight the importance of implementation of human rights.
Eversince 2017, there has been a rise in people, especially the youth standing up and calling for their human rights to be fully recognised in Zimbabwe. The youth have demonstrated for better jobs, reform in the economy and have generally aired out their grievances about the human rights. This year alone we have seen doctors demonstrating in order to defend the right to healthcare and the youth have become vocal over climate change and the drought and food situation in Zimbabwe. These are human rights areas we must pay particular attention to as the situation is dire. As we commemorate and celebrate youth around the world for standing up for their human rights, it is important for us as a nation to foster a culture where respect of human rights is paramount. Where without fear, people can stand up for their rights and where they are being curtailed, there is an environment that will allow for peaceful demand of these rights.
Conversations About Human Rights
For us to have future generations that are aware of their human rights and for the voices of the youth today to not go to waste, we, as a people, need to create an environment where we empower each and every person around us by making sure they know their human rights. As citizens, we need to start having conversations about human rights and realise that these rights are not something we should beg for but something we are entitled to. Gone are the days where we see injustices such as police brutality and consider it the norm. Policy makers around the country need to implement human rights based policies that are principled, responsive and effective. The youths are standing up, they are speaking up – let us listen.
We call upon the government of Zimbabwe to recommit to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and strive to enhance enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the declaration as well as our Constitution rather than curtailing access.
As we reflect on our rights and our place on the international stage regarding the enforcement of human rights in Zimbabwe, let us not forget those that have fought, suffered, been imprisoned or died for the realisation of human rights in our nation. The people have faced many injustices and many human rights violations, lets stand with the youth to try turn this around. We therefore urge the government , particularly law enforcement and intelligence agencies to always act in line with the Constitution. We urge them to remember theirs is to protect and not to harm , to aid and not to destroy.