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… Laz Mom

“ Nigeria : Fifty Persons slaughtered in renewed clashes between Farmers and Herdsmen.’’

“ US : Boy 18, gunned down by Police.’’

“Rohingya flee in droves to Bangladesh as ethnic cleansing continues in Myanmar”

His eyes dart from one Newspaper title to another. All the dailies on the news stand are filled with horrible stories of Human Rights violations from his City to the farthest end of the World. Denis shakes his head in bewilderment. Seventy years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, violations are becoming more rampant and audacious than abating. He picks up a title of his choice and walks back with his mind on the forthcoming World Human Rights Day.

Human Rights Day is observed every year on the 10th of December – the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year, the Human Rights Day kicks off a year-long campaign to mark the upcoming 70th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. It has been recognised by the Guinness World Records as the most translated document in the world, available in more than 500 languages.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted by representatives of diverse legal and cultural backgrounds from across the world. The document sets out universal values and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations. It establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. Thanks to the Declaration, and States’ commitments to its principles, the dignity of millions has been uplifted and the foundation for a more just world has been laid. While its promise is yet to be fully realized, the very fact that it has stood the test of time is testament to the enduring universality of its perennial values of equality, justice and human dignity.

There are however, challenges that must be countered even as this year’s Human Rights day is celebrated.

Local Challenges:

In Nigeria, the Human Rights environment has improved tremendously as our democracy grows along with its attendant gains. There is a relative air of freedom and space for Civil liberties. However, that is as good as it gets. Age-long violations are still rife and occur on a daily basis. The Police still routinely resort to torture and illegal detentions as evidenced by the present mass call for the scrapping of the Special Anti Robbery Squad better known as SARS, nationwide. If allegations are to be believed, this squad is known more for torture and brutality than arresting robbers. The squad has become a symbol of the total lack of respect for Human Rights by the Police in Nigeria.

Extra Judicial killings, both by security agents and the citizenry, remain common place. Terrorist attacks, though largely contained, have yet to be completely halted. We are still inundated with stories of lynchings, carnage, bloodletting, and community ransacking almost daily. Farmers and Herdsmen clashes are now bloody and frequent especially in the North Central part of the country while groups of marauders have continued to ravage other parts of the country including parts of the South East. The insurgency in the North East can still be credited with decimating entire communities in that part of the country.

Other forms of violations are perpetrated against vulnerable Persons including Women, Sexual Minorities, People Living Positively, Female Sex Workers, People who use or Inject Drugs etc.

The above all provides a snapshot of the most common forms of Human Rights abuses in Nigeria. Amnesty International, in its’ annual Country report of 2016 rates Nigeria’s Human Rights situation as being below par against regional standards and best practices.

Going forward, this year’s World Human Rights Day with the theme #StandUp4HumanRights is a call on all authorities to start making efforts towards respecting Rights and instruments that cause those rights to be respected.

Africa Challenges

On the Continental level, Africa is still caught in the web of violating her own citizens’rights.  These violations are characterized by declining democratic values, unbridled corruption, weak participatory governance, and lately, slavery and human trafficking. African Leaders in some Countries have flouted democratic values by remaining in power for decades with no real efforts at relinquishing same. Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea and Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo Brazzaville will go down in infamy as having between them, over one hundred and three (103) years of rulership. Often these leaders change constitutional provisions or manipulate popular votes during elections to perpetuate their rule against the collective wish of their people.

Corruption is still the bane of Africa’s development. African leaders are frequently guilty of turning the commonwealth into their private property. Monies are carted off in billions of dollars to private accounts in foreign, usually western countries. It is not uncommon for African leaders to become richer than their countries while their Citizens starve and die away in penury and lack. The consequence of these actions has left the continent in a state of deprivation. Crucial sectors like Education, Health, Agriculture, Electricity, Potable water, and good Road networks are generally in a state of neglect and disrepair where they exist at all.

As mentioned earlier, Human Trafficking and Slavery is another Human Rights Challenge facing Africa. Daily, thousands of Africans especially Women and Girls are trafficked across Europe and other parts of the World in exchange for peanuts. Scores of African Youths die daily in the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert as they make a desperate bid for greener pastures in order to escape the dire poverty and lack back home. This upsurge in Human traffic has opened up a window for slave trade and human auction markets especially in Libya. It is said to be the most gruesome Human Rights violation since the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade which lasted almost 400 years from the c16th – the c19th.

Global Leve

Globally, the situation is not that much different either as Human Rights violations and Challenges are still being experienced. In Myanmar for instance, the Rohingya, a Muslim Ethnic minority group, are under the threat of ethnic cleansing by Buddhist Rakhine majority ethnic group. This has led to the minority migrating in their thousands to Bangladesh for safety. For reasons possibly of diplomacy, many world leaders have remained mute over the situation in Myanmar. From North Korea to China, China to Australia, human Rights challenges still abound.

Going Forward

Respect for Human Rights will remain a challenge for as long as there exists rogue leaders, rogue nations and power-hungry people. The only assured measure that can stop or at least reduce the scourge Human Rights violations in our world will be when each and every one stands up in defence of Human Rights in their various communities.

Denis shines his shoes and picks his crested T Shirt. He has decided to stand up for Human Rights today as he will join in the March across the City with the local Human Rights Activists this year. The theme for the year is #StandUp4HumanRights so it might as well be him or even you. Afterall, on this 70th anniversary of the World Human Rights it’s time to stand up and act for Human Rights in Africa!

Laz Mom is Program Director at Lawyers Alert

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