OCTOBER 18, 2010: Human Rights Day is Here, But Many of Its Promises Are Yet to Arrive

Human Rights Day is Here, But Many of Its Promises Are Yet to Arrive

SOURCE: The East African

By Noel Kututwa and Erwin Van Der Borght

This year's African Human Rights Day, which falls on October 21, comes 24 years after the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Charter) entered into force. But have the hopes and aspirations enshrined in it been realised?

Few would disagree that there has been a lot of progress in the promotion and protection of human rights over the past 24 years. The African Charter created the first regional human-rights framework for Africa and, through the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, is able to hold governments accountable for their human-rights obligations.

The creation of the African Union in 2002 gave further prominence to human rights by acknowledging in its constitutive Act that respect for democratic principles, human rights, the rule of law and good governance are paramount and that these principles must be protected.

In spite of increased recognition among African leaders of the importance of respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of their citizens, millions in Africa are still denied their basic human rights. The continent continues to face numerous human-rights challenges exacerbated by conflict, poverty and impunity.

A number of armed conflicts raging throughout Africa account for a swathe of human-rights violations. In Somalia, thousands of civilians are estimated to have been killed since 2007 as a result of the indiscriminate firing of mortars and artillery into densely-populated urban areas, specifically in Mogadishu. Across the continent, millions have been displaced or made homeless by violence.

Armed conflict also brings with it sexual violence, whose effects endure well after the ordeal has ended. Arach, an 18-year-old from Pader in northern Uganda, narrated her ordeal at the hands of the Lord's Resistance Army to Amnesty International.

While she expressed relief that she survived while many of those she was abducted with were killed, Arach was profoundly affected by her experience.

"Even though I am back to the community and my life is normal, I still hallucinate and dream a lot about what happened. I dream about my forced marriage and the people I was made to kill and others who were killed during our time with the LRA... Because of my experience, I sometimes find myself shouting uncontrollably..."

Arach and other survivors of human-rights abuses suffered during the conflict are in dire need of reparations to help them rebuild their lives. Their tormentors have yet to be brought to justice.

Millions in Africa have been driven by poverty to live in informal settlements and slums. In recent years, in violation of their right to adequate housing, enshrined in treaties ratified across the continent, Amnesty International has documented cases of mass forced evictions in Angola, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

In these countries, hundreds of thousands of people each year are left homeless when they are forcibly evicted from their homes by the authorities.

In most cases, evictions are conducted without any due process, consultation, adequate notice or compensation.

The effect of forced evictions can be catastrophic, particularly for people who are already living in poverty. Forced evictions result not only in people losing their homes (which they may have built themselves) and personal possessions, but also their social networks.

After forced evictions, people may no longer be able to access clean water, food, sanitation, work, health and education. These actions by governments perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Amnesty International continues to document cases of state repression that restricts the work of journalists in a number of countries.

In 2009, Angolan journalists faced lawsuits for "abusing the media" and defamation charges leading to prison sentences; in Cameroon, a journalist was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for publishing "false news" and others were charged with insulting government officials.

Journalists were also harassed, intimidated and arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Gambia, Nigeria and Uganda for their work; Sudan and Chad deported several foreign journalists and repressive media laws were introduced or remained in place in both countries as well as in Rwanda, Togo and Uganda.

It's not all bad news though. Progress has been made in some areas, most notably in the area of maternal health. The AU Summit held in Kampala in July 2010 adopted a declaration on Promoting Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development entitled Actions on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Development in Africa by 2015. This is a crucial step for ensuring better health of women and children.

A significant milestone was achieved 24 years ago and there is no reason not to commemorate Africa Human Rights Day this Thursday. However, the state of human rights in many African countries calls for a reality check.

URL Address: http://allafrica.com/stories/201010190833.html