The world commemorated Human Rights Day yesterday and it is hoped our own actors here paid attention to the messages delivered by world leaders on this emotive subject.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. These human rights are not country-specific. They are not a reward for good behaviour, or particular to a certain era or social group. They are the inalienable entitlements of all people, at all times and everywhere, 365 days a year,” said UN Human Rights Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
In an increasingly unequal world, where – as demonstrated within our own borders – extreme wealth cohabits with extreme poverty, many in the latter group draw cold comfort from the fact their right to dignity and equal standing before the law are guaranteed by the Constitution and protected by government. While government’s protection of this basic right is generally not in dispute, its commitment to other rights has come under fierce criticism, especially in the instance of indigenous peoples and their right to self-determination.
Just this week, 115 residents of Ranyane returned to the High Court in pursuit of the restoration of a borehole, whose unavailability has violated their access to the basic need for water.
The right to self-expression has also come under debate in light of recent incidents involving the Executive and the media, while some unorthodox churches have read infringements of freedom of association in government
It must also be said, however, that when compared to other countries across the world, Botswana has done a commendable job in safeguarding rights such as life, liberty, security, protection of the law and freedom of conscience.
The impartial application of both law enforcement and justice generally mean that most Batswana have a level of confidence in the right to security and protection of the law.
To some extent, especially when compared to our African peers, the State has also gone further in the pursuit of additional rights such as universal access to education, health and opportunities for Batswana. However, as the theme of this year’s Human Rights Day reminds us, human rights are to be enjoyed 365 days a year.
Perceived or real intimidation/suppression of indigenous groups, corruption in law enforcement, justice and governance, ineffective service delivery of additional needs such as education and health, all undermine the noble achievements being made in our human rights record.
Because of the fact that they are ‘rights’, the State and other actors should not expect high praise for pursuing, observing or protecting human rights.
Instead, as other countries have found out, one slip-up, perceived or real, could land us in the global ‘sin-bin’ with devastating effects to our precariously balanced economy.