“Where, after all, do the 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 will have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for the progress in the larger world” [Eleanor Roosevelt]
In 1945, the Second World War came to an end. It is estimated that over 70-85 million people perished. At the time that was just over 3% of the world’s total population. Devastated by the event, 51 countries pledged that they would never want a repeat of such mass destruction ever again. They came together and formed what is now known as The United Nations. Following their pledge to international peace and security, they realised the importance of the security of the individual. Many atrocities had taken place during the war including mass killings, atomic bombings, torture cases and genocides. In a bid to never repeat such “barbarous acts which […] outraged the conscience of mankind”, Eleanor Roosevelt was tasked to chair the Commission on Human Rights which drafted what became known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
In 1948 by resolution 217 A(III) of 1947, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. With the principles having been borrowed from the Code Napoleon, the Universal Declaration became the cornerstone document for Constitutionalism in the 20th Century. Today it seems unimaginable that the world could ever have existed in a time where human rights were not the foundation of the social contract.
Equality – Reducing Inequalities, Advancing Human Rights
The theme this year is based on Article 1 of the UDHR. The Article states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and have reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
The theme this year begs us to return to the fundamental principles of human rights. Equality is at the core of human rights in that through realising equality we can break power cycles and even tackle the root causes of conflict.
Equality means that like cases must be treated alike. It means that where there is a difference in treatment, it must be justifiable and that there must be proportionality between the aim sought and the means employed when it comes to dealing with people. In some cases, affirmative action must be taken in order to even the playing field and eliminate unfair conditions. This is the only way to reduce inequalities and advance human rights.
Laws on Equality
The principle of equality is a common thread that runs throughout the 2013 Constitution – the first stitch being found in section 3. Section 3 of the Constitution lays out the founding values. In these values, Zimbabwe is to be founded on the respect and recognition of equality and the respect for gender equality. The right to equality and non-discrimination is fully fleshed out in section 56 of the Constitution under the Declaration of Rights. Under this section, men and women are to be considered equal before the law and no one should be unfairly discriminated against on the basis of colour , creed , nationality, tribe, etc.
Internationally and regionally, Zimbabwe has so far ratified a number of international instruments which amplify the need to commitment to the right to equality. This is an indication of acceptance or acknowledgement of the universality of human rights, and the government should be applauded for this positive move.
Some of the international instruments ratified by Zimbabwe include:
- The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights,
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,
- The Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination,
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child and
- The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance [although President Mnangagwa has very recently signed the Instrument of Ratification, it has not yet been deposited with the African Union which is the final formal step for Zimbabwe for Zimbabwe to become a full State party to the Charter].
In pursuing the observance of human rights, sovereignty should not be used as an entitlement to abuse and destruction of the dignity of other people without being held accountable by the international community.
COVID-19 and Equality
To commemorate Human Rights Day means to have an active re-assessment about our overall human rights compliance as a nation. It is important to look at what is happening on the ground. Recently, the COVID-19 crisis has hampered our efforts to achieve equality as well as to fight for the implementation of human rights overall. Since early 2020, many inequalities and hardships have been exposed by the pandemic. The High Commissioner for Human Rights noted in her speech this year that “inequalities [have been] inflamed by COVID-19 [and] are pushing us back”.
When it comes to COVID-19 and the pandemic, Zimbabwe seems to have taken the Animal Farm approach under which in practice “all (human) animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. Legal requirements for people to quarantine and self-isolate are applied to some but not all. Gatherings are by law required to be limited to certain numbers, yet there are groups that appear to be exempt from these measures.
With the fourth wave of COVID-19 having just started, the time for the Government to show its commitment to equality has come. All living conditions, social and economic factors must be considered when implementing laws that deal with measures that protect the general populace from the virus.
As a nation, we must take heed on all fronts to emerge from this pandemic better, fairer and stronger. We must rethink what it means to be equal and we must not only pay lip-service to achieving equality but we must implement real change to achieve it in reality. Human rights are not for some people, human rights are for all people.
We call upon everyone to be conscious of their environments, to be intentional in their acts and lend their efforts to achieving equality for all.