Understanding your human rights

concept of human rights developed from the Roman idea of ‘natural law’ about
the birthrights enjoyed by every human being. Human rights are rights that
belong to every individual. They do not depend on the specifics of the
individual such as race or color. Human rights exist irrespective of the
question whether they are granted or recognized by the legal and social system
within the country. Human rights are not granted by people and cannot be taken
away by them. They can only be respected or violated by people.

milestones in the establishment of human rights are found in the Magna Carta of
1215, which placed the British king under the law and decisively checked royal
power. Later it became a model for those who demanded democratic government and
individual rights for all individuals in time and space; the Habeas Corpus Act
of 1679, which means that if a person has been arrested or is held by the
police, a lawyer or friend can obtain a writ of habeas corpus ordering the police
to produce the arrested person in court which then decides if the police have
sufficient reason to hold the prisoner. It prevents unjust or wrongful
imprisonment or detention by legal authorities; and the Bill of Rights of 1689,
which included a statement of the birthrights and immunities that may be legally
and morally claimed by the citizens of a state within the bounds of reason,
truth and the accepted standards of behavior.

authors of the American (1776) and the French (1789) declarations wanted to
protect individual rights against arbitrary rule because they believed in
natural law, human reason, and universal order. They also believed rights to be
the property of persons capable of exercising rational choice.

During the 19th century, human
rights began to be enshrined in international law such as the Geneva
Conventions which contain a series of treaties governing the humane treatment
of civilians, soldiers and prisoners during times of war.

the 1920s and 1930s, the
of Nations
and the
International Labor Organization advanced the protection of national minorities
and labor standards. Under the United Nations Charter adopted in 1945, the
United Nations committed itself to promote ‘universal respect for, and
observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms’. Non-governmental
organizations and Latin American countries pushed for the charter to include a
section on human rights.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General
Assembly in 1948. It establishes a wide range of civil and political rights
including the right to life, liberty, assembly, religion, of thought and
expression, freedom of movement, association and information; and the right to
participate in government. The declaration also proclaims that social and
economic rights are indispensable including the right to education, the right
to work and the right to participate in cultural life of the community. Further
the declaration sets out the foundations of rights including their universality
and equality of application.

Declaration has spawned subsequent agreements and treaties such as the Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 and Covenant of Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights of 1966. These two Covenants have been accepted as binding by
many countries. The Optional Protocol also adopted by the General Assembly in
1966, provides for individual complaints about violations of the Civil Covenant.
The Universal Declaration and the three covenants constitute what is referred
to as the ‘International Bill of Rights’.

World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 brought together 171 states and
thousands of human rights activists and representatives of human rights
organizations from all over the world. The governments reaffirmed their
commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and set out a plan of
action. Upon their request a post of United Nations High Commissioner on Human
Rights was later established by the United Nations General Assembly.

realization of economic rights is provided for in the United Nations Charter.
It states that among the primary goals of the United Nations are ‘higher
standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social
progress and development; as well as international cultural and educational
cooperation’. An extended list of economic rights is contained in the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and in various
conventions of the International Labor Organization regarding labor relations
and conditions of work and other United Nations agencies.

United Nations has broadened the list of rights through resolutions including
those on the new international economic order, natural resources, the right to
development, and on the eradication of hunger and malnutrition.

Declaration on the Right to Development was adopted by the United Nations
General Assembly on
December 4, 1986. It is an alienable human right by virtue of which
every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute
to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which
all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized. It adds that
the human person is the central subject of development and should be the active
participant and beneficiary of the right to development, that an appropriate
political, social and economic order for development should be promoted and
protected and that states have the primary responsibility for the creation of
national and international conditions favorable to the realization of the right
to development and to ensure the fair distribution of the benefits of national
development policies. The Declaration reaffirms the indivisibility and
interdependence of all human rights.

the Right to Food, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed the
right to adequate food as an indispensable element of the right of everyone to
a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of
his family.

Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition was adopted
in December 1976. It proclaimed that every man, woman and child has the
inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition in order to develop
fully and maintain their physical and mental faculties. Society already
possesses sufficient resources, organizational ability, technology and
competence to achieve the right to food. The eradication of hunger is a common
objective of all the countries of the international community and it is a
fundamental responsibility of governments to work together for higher food
production and a more equitable and efficient distribution of food between and
within countries.

the World Food Summit in 1996, world leaders agreed to reduce in half the
number of the chronically undernourished population in developing countries by
2015. They reaffirmed their commitment to halve hunger at their
Summit in 2002. The office of Special Rapporteur on the
right to food has been established and reports annually to the Human Rights
Council and to the United Nations General Assembly on the status of the right
to food in selected countries.

current world food crisis calls for a comprehensive and concerted action at the
national and international levels not only to increase food production but also
to ensure a more equitable and efficient distribution between and within
countries so that everyone has enough to eat in quantity and quality for a
healthy and active life.

that peace, security, human rights and development are inter-dependent, the
2005 World Summit Outcome called on member states to integrate the promotion and
protection of human rights into national policies.

African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) entered into force on
October 21 1986. It granted rights to life, property, privacy and
security of family life, family and community property and the duty to care for
the family and maintain the corporate spirit of the African community.

1992 African Ministers of Justice and Attorneys-General adopted a Declaration
stressing the need to promote and protect human rights everywhere in
Africa by all concerned including governments and national institutions. It
was also agreed that all forms of discrimination, intolerance, extremism, and
extreme poverty should be combated because such evils and inhuman practices
prevent the enjoyment of inherent civil, political, social, cultural and
economic rights, including the right to development and to democratic
participation by the people in the decision-making processes on issues that affect
their own daily lives.

signing the United Nations Charter at independence, African nations adhered to
the human rights principles enshrined therein and enacted bills of rights in
their constitutions like those embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. The independent nations accepted the stipulations of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

some of these rights have not been incorporated into national laws while others
have been violated. Therefore the challenges of human rights protection are to
be found not so much in the Africa Charter per se but in instituting the
mechanisms and political commitment to effectively implement the provisions of
the Charter.

In Uganda the political economy difficulties that have been
experienced for a long time have made it extremely difficult to observe human
rights. The latest ‘Failed States Index’ (Foreign Policy July/August 2008)
using political, economic, military and social indicators of instability, has placed
Uganda among countries facing greater instability, with Somalia as the state
facing the most risk of failure.

World Bank in collaboration with the Human Security Report Project at
Simon Fraser University in Canada published a report in 2008. Using a combination of human
rights abuse measures of (1) the political terror scale, (2) deaths from
political violence and (3) the World Bank’s political stability index, it has
been possible to present a comprehensive picture of where such human rights
abuses have occurred.
Burundi, DRC, Somalia and Uganda are in the first 10 in two out of the three lists. Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Nepal and Sudan are in the first 10 in all three categories.

Regarding Africa, Daniel D. C. Don Nanjira has written that “In
short, the national and international road to the promotion and protection of
human rights in
Africa is long, erratic and rough, but it must be
traversed. The challenges, choices and chances will be most difficult to
elucidate and fulfill, but this must be done and taken into account for the
twenty first century”.