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Opinions Wed, 7 Mar 2018

The universal declaration of Human Rights: Our hope for a better future

The issue of human rights abuse continues to be a major threat to the survival of many people around the globe today despite efforts from numerous quarters to end the menace.

It is shocking to note that many lives are still at risk due to failure on part of the government, policymakers and the powers that be to deal with the issues by strictly implementing and enforcing the right policies and to punish offenders to put the matter to rest.

The serial shooting and killings of innocent people, torture, discrimination and other forms of gross violation of human rights of which children and women suffer the most around the world are a major concern that something urgent ought to be done to remedy the situation.

Undeniably, Africa as a continent has been the hardest hit of these phenomena which varies from a tall of the list of abuses ranging from torture, human trafficking, child labour and modern slavery, discrimination, rape, poverty subjugation of women and oppression of homosexuals among others.

These are indeed a clear indication of gross violation of peoples fundamental human rights always vividly represent in media reports on daily basis.

What is even more worrying is the rate at which these gross and systematic abuses continue to be perpetrated at an alarming rate. Despite the huge sums the UN and regional system are investing into protecting human rights which are disregarded in many countries.

The exploitation of migrants in Libya, denial of women's rights in many part of the world, particularly in Islamic countries where they are frequently treated as property rather than as humans including failure to identify and protect victims of human trafficking who are forced into or as unpaid workers to pay their traffickers and many others are examples of human rights abuses which paint a picture of the dire situation in many parts of the world today.

The issue of human rights abuse of no doubt is a global phenomenon wreaking havoc and gradually destroying masses. The question is for how long will this continue?.

Ghana as a country have had its fair share of the issues with series of torture including all forms of barbaric measures being meted out to many innocent citizens on a daily basis which is a cause for worry.

Crimes like armed robbery attacks are on ascendancy dominating as many lives are lost even under daylight, coupled with issues of child abuses, rape, gender inequality gaps, child labour, human trafficking/ modern slavery, poverty, unemployment, discrimination among others which the entire nation is grappling with.

The truth is each and everyone is entitled to a right to freedom, equality and dignity regardless of race, place of origin, political opinion, color, religion, creed or gender, being a child or an adult, an entitlement which ought to be safeguarded but the question is what are the authorities doing about these unfortunate situations?.

Freedom is said to sacred and an alienable right which all human beings possess. It is the power to act according to its will, while respecting the law and the rights of others.

As it stands now, what every citizen ought to know is that violating the rights of any individual amounts to depriving that person off his / her right to freedom, equality and dignity therefore an affront to peace and security which is a likely a recipe to disaster.

Human rights are rights that belongs to all people by virtue of them being human.

According to the Wikipedia, Human rights are "rights and freedoms to which all humans are ". Proponents of the concept usually assert that everyone is endowed with certain entitlements merely by reason of being human. Furthermore, human rights are moral principles or norms that describe certain standards of human behavior, and are regularly protected as legal rights in municipal and international law.

Human rights are commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights "to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being", and which are "inherent in all human beings" regardless of their nation, location, language, religion, ethnic origin or any other status. They are applicable everywhere and at every time in the sense of being universal.

A careful look at the above definition, one will come to conclusion that human right issues are very sensitive and important therefore ought to be treated with much attention and attention so it doesn’t escalate and undermine the peace of any nation.

Undeniably, the 1992 constitution of the fourth republic of Ghana is one respecter of human rights issues.

The fact remains if that special law book can devote its whole Chapter 5 which contained 22 articles in all (the fundamental human rights and freedoms) it is enough ground to conclude that the issue has been given so much of prominence.

But come to think of it why are we Ghanaians still under the shackles of human rights abuses since the promulgation the constitution which guides all of us?.

The same constitution guarantees the rights to every person in Ghana, regardless of the race, place of origin, political opinion, color, religion, creed or gender.

It further requires that these fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined and entrenched in the constitution shall be respected and upheld by the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary and all other organs of the government and its agencies as well as by all natural and legal persons.

Arguably the best book to read after the Holy Bible I guessed should be the 1992 Constitution of Ghana including the Universal Declaration of Human rights of the United Nations which I’ll encourage every citizen in the country to read to be equipped with the knowledge about their rights as human so they can take action whenever they feel their rights are being trampled upon by anyone.

I hold the view that there are so many rights in today but the chief of all them is the human rights since it concern the wellbeing of every human being in particular therefore it ought to protected so that we can all live in freedom, dignity, peace and harmony with each other.

The United Nations Assembly in its bid to protect the human rights of everyone helping them enjoy their rights to freedom, dignity and equality in full adopted the Universal Declaration Human Rights (UDHR) December 10, 1948.

Motivated by the experiences of the preceding world wars, the Universal Declaration was the first time that countries agreed on a comprehensive statement of inalienable human right.

The Declaration which is a milestone document, underpins all international human rights law and inspires everybody to continue to work to ensure all people can gain freedom, equality and dignity.

It sets out 30 fundamental rights belonging to all persons which comes in articles as follows:

Article 1 Right to Equality

Article 2 Freedom from Discrimination

Article 3 Right to Life, Liberty, Personal Security

Article 4 Freedom from Slavery

Article 5 Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment

Article 6 Right to Recognition as a Person before the Law

Article 7 Right to Equality before the Law

Article 8 Right to Remedy by Competent Tribunal

Article 9 Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Exile

Article 10 Right to Fair Public Hearing

Article 11 Right to be Considered Innocent until Proven Guilty

Article 12 Freedom from Interference with Privacy, Family, Home and Correspondence

Article 13 Right to Free Movement in and out of the Country

Article 14 Right to Asylum in other Countries from Persecution

Article 15 Right to a Nationality and the Freedom to Change It

Article 16 Right to Marriage and Family

Article 17 Right to Own Property

Article 18 Freedom of Belief and Religion

Article 19 Freedom of Opinion and Information

Article 20 Right of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Article 21 Right to Participate in Government and in Free Elections

Article 22 Right to Social Security

Article 23 Right to Desirable Work and to Join Trade Unions

Article 24 Right to Rest and Leisure

Article 25 Right to Adequate Living Standard

Article 26 Right to Education

Article 27 Right to Participate in the Cultural Life of Community

Article 28 Right to a Social Order that Articulates this Document

Article 29 Community Duties Essential to Free and Full Development and

Article 30 Freedom from State or Personal Interference in the above Rights

But 70 years after its introduction, the state of play of human rights across the world leaves a great deal to be desired.

A day does not go by without news reports of grave human rights abuses in countries across all regions of the world. We are confronted with deaths and displacements in Syria; looting and killing in Iraq; rapes and amputations in the Congo; repression of dissent and ill-treatment of workers in China; disappearances and beheadings in Mexico; torture and arbitrary detention in Guantánamo Bay; racism and xenophobia in Europe; subjugation of women and oppression of homosexuals across the Arab world; and the list goes on.

In reality, we can come to conclusion by saying that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have not achieved its aim even in its 70th years as a result of the various abuses of human rights and atrocities being perpetrated against multitudes of people across the regions of the world.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in his opinion believes though its promises are not met in entirety, it has achieved some result. He therefore calls for a strong collaboration from all and sundry to make it work.

In an article published online, he was quoted to have said: “The Universal Declaration has helped countless people gain greater freedoms and equality,”

“Violations have been prevented; independence and autonomy have been attained. While not all the promises of the Universal Declaration have been fulfilled, many people have been able to secure essential rights and freedoms and put an end to discrimination.”

For his part, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres on the occasion of the commemoration of the 2017 Human Rights Day articulated his views about the Declaration in a tweet quoted as: “Despite the considerable progress made in the past 70 years, the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not yet matched by facts on the ground. We must make human rights a reality for everyone".

His opinion, many people believe is a true reflection of the picture on the ground since it is clear for everyone to see.

But there is hope says the UN Secretary General that the world will be a better place of all to live in devoid of torture, poverty and all forms of abuses that limits the rights of people to freedom, dignity and equality as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I believe such a dream is possible and bound to happen if all stakeholders come on board to support the United Nations in its quest to achieve its set goals. As the saying goes "two heads are better than one".

Governmental agencies, policy makers and the powers must do their bit to enforce the existing human rights laws and punish the offenders who go contrary to those laws. It's a matter fact that there are good laws and policies which are already in place to combat the menace but the bane has always been lack of enforcement. Until the authorities step up their games in enforcement, things will always remain the way they are therefore positive action is needed in this case to turn things around.

It also behooves on every citizen to play a watchdog role and report to the authorities the perpetrators of human rights crimes so they can be punished to serve as deterrent to who are on the brink of committing those offences. Citizens of every nation must also be steadfast in performance of their civic rights by making sure have knowledge about their rights as well as being privy to the human rights laws encapsulated in the constitution or other acts including the various acts enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It must be noted that that the Universal Declaration includes civil and political rights, like the right to life, liberty, free speech and privacy. It also includes economic, social and cultural rights, like the right to social security, health and education. Therefore every citizen ought to be abreast of these acts of the declaration including the constitution or laws guiding their rights in their own country.

Civil Society Groups, Non-Governmental Organizations and Human rights activist groups and individuals also ought to step up their game in their advocacy roles. They also need to support government and its agencies to deliver on their mandate of ensuring that the rights of people including children, women and men are protected and they are allowed to enjoy right to freedom, dignity and equality.

The media also have a great role to play in information dissemination to the public on issues of human rights abuses so authorities can take action to rescue victims and prosecute the offenders. They ought to be steadfast in performance of their watchdog roles to hold authorities who also flout the law accountable. Fighting crimes and human rights abuses is a shared responsibility therefore it behooves on all stakeholder including the media to come on board and support the worthy cause to put a stop to the menace and bring hope and life to millions of people across the world who have fallen a victim to all forms of human rights abuses.

Finally we all need to join hands and stand up for human rights with the hope to live in freedom, peace and harmony and secure a better future for our children.

By Joseph Kobla Wemakor/UNIC Accra

Columnist: Joseph Kobla Wemakor