International Human Rights Day falls towards the end of the United Nations annual calendar of “international days”.
After a year of commemorating other days, which remind us of the universality of human rights and their applicability to all persons, indivisibly, it’s as if the day reminds us to pause and reflect on the holistic protection and promotion of human rights in that regard. Historically though the day falls on the 10th December as a celebration of the day on which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - the declaration which underpins many of our constitutional Bills of Rights in various countries across the world – was first adopted by the international community.
The UDHR is a peculiar instrument. Although not necessarily (I use this word very loosely in this context) binding on the states which adhere to it, the human rights as declared in it are the basis of many protections and protective mechanisms, which have since been developed since its adoption many years ago. It recognition and celebration are therefore central to almost any conversation on human rights. The day also falls at the end of the 16days of activism. 16 days, as explored in earlier pieces on this column, is a period to concertedly challenge violence against women and girls. The campaign recognises the vulnerabilities of marginalised communities, and specifically women and children, and makes efforts to advocate for the ending of such said violence. The International Human Rights Day marks the end of the specific focus on this campaign.
This year, the theme for the International Human Rights Day was “Recover Better – Stand up for Human Rights”. The theme recognises the challenges which were faced in this year that has almost ended. It derives from the acknowledgement that we have, as an international community, at our various levels of operation and engagement been hit by the global pandemic.
Particularly, all aspects of our lives have been affected in one way or the other, politically, with the various States of Emergencies declared in different countries; civilly as we have seen the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on some and not others; socially as it impacted the ways we imagine ourselves in the world, as well as the ways in which we engage with others and each other; culturally in the ways we saw a different face to discriminations and stigma, including failures to prepare for the hard hitting effects of the interventions on the creative sectors in our different countries; and economically, with the world economy going into distress, many losing their ways of making money and some informal sectors almost at the point of collapse.
This is all to say, if ever there was a time to co-create a better recovery plan on human
In commemoration of the day, for the first time this year, in Botswana, government and the non-governmental sector including most stakeholders and international institutions came together at a first of its kind celebration. In an interesting unfolding, NGOs and international institution, United Nations, called out the government suggesting all the necessary changes towards reducing the inequality gaps that exist in Botswana.
Acknowledging that there have been positive steps taken in this year to respond to the various violations of human rights at different levels and most specifically in the home, government was called to take more targeted steps towards ensuring a national recovery from the pandemic.
Government was also called on to recognise areas where there has been systematic and institutional oppression, and make greater effort towards reforming those for the benefit of all people in the country. this is important because with a country which has been hailed as a beacon of human rights, reflection does not always come easily for our government who often conflate issues and miss responding adequately and effectively to specific issues which affect different communities.
The disability community often find themselves grouped together in one big group, for which interventions are generalised and not offered with a specific focus for the specific disability. Government has taken the position that all Tswana tribes are indigenous, therefore failing to recognise the plight of the actual indigenous persons in the country, despite the entrenched discriminations and stigma against these communities.
Further, the failure to include socio-economic and cultural rights in the constitution and the continued insistence by the Court of Appeal that they should not be extended from the constitutionally provided rights, limits the scope of protection of human rights, reducing other rights to a non-existent position.
Yes, government has made great efforts including the introduction of the pilot gender-based violence Court in Molepolole where we have, in the last few months, observed an increase in intimate partner femicide; and the introduction of child friendly police station at the Broadhurst police station. These efforts are greatly applauded as they should be. There remains many a gray area, however which may continue to be; or may become an area through which violations seep in, and this can render the efforts being made, invalid.
In this period, where government has made the undertaking to consult and review its actions, it is critical that it continue to work with civil society; not in efforts to depoliticise, but rather to move beyond politics and towards the promotion and protection of all human rights. That is the best way for a nation to recover better.