Human Rights Day is observed internationally every 10th of December. It commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In 1950, the Assembly passed resolution 423 (V), inviting all States and interested organizations to observe 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day.
This year, Human Rights Day was framed on the call to stand up for someone’s rights. In the coining of the theme, the United Nations was cognizant of the fact that disrespect for basic human rights continues to be wide-spread in all parts of the globe.
Extremist movements subject people to horrific violence. In fact, Kenya seems to have borne the highest brunt with terror attacks in Garisa and other parts of the country. Messages of intolerance and hatred prey on our fears and that humane values are under attack.
In the statement delivered in their website, United Nations was explicit that humanity must reaffirm common humanity. The statement reiterates that human beings can make real difference wherever they are. Be it in the streets, in school, at work, in public transport; in the voting booth, on social media and the society at large. I choose to start with the key board.
Civil Society Involvement in matters of Human Rights issues:
Civil Society organizations in Kenya and internationally are known to be advocates of Human Rights. The state on the other hand, is expected to be custodians of law and order. The police play key role in maintaining law and order. The Kenya police service for instance has coined their motto around service and protection of human rights, utumishi kwa wote’. The motto loosely translates to, service for all.
However, States all over the World have been viewed as the greatest violators of Human Rights. In this case, security machinery, often observed as the embodiment of the State take the blame. Human Rights organizations have for a long time not seen eye to eye with state security agencies. In the course, they point out the flaws of the State on a number of matters.
In Kenya for instance, the term civil society has wrong connotations in security circles. Whenever you visit a police station and invoke the name of any renown civil society organization, the response is often, ‘nyinyi ndio wale watu wa Human Rights?’ (You are the Human Rights people?), that in itself, pits the police and civil society players in two opposing camps.
In a number of cases, state officers become defensive and very selective. They become extremely official with you to the extent that finding out about basic information becomes a problem.
The Coast Scenario
In the Coast Region of Kenya, comprising of the six counties, Lamu, Kwale, Mombasa, Kilifi, Tana River, and Taita Taveta, the story is not any different. The hostility between the two sides is evident and gets to rock bottom whenever there are challenges. The region, for the avoidance of doubt, has suffered numerous human rights abuses. The issues around forced disappearances of youths accused of terrorism tendencies and clerics, of citizens being in the hands of unknown assailants is a serious matter in the Coast region of Kenya.
The matter of ownership of property, specifically land, is a delicate human rights issue in the entire region. At some point, the frustrations were almost leading to calls for cessation. As a result, there are growing numbers of Civil Societies in the region.
On this occasion, the civil societies under the Umbrella Network known as Working Reference Group for Security and Human Rights had planned to commemorate the day by training police officers in Taita Taveta County on the subject at hand, human Rights.
The idea had been occasioned by the bad blood between the officers in the region and the community. Civil society organizations including those from Mombasa County had been caught between the two factions.
You see, Taita Taveta County is a land of beauty. Anyone who has stepped in the area will opine that the vast land, bordering Tsavo National park is a target of many. There are individuals with huge chunks of land and those living in squalor conditions as well. The conflict pits human wildlife conflicts in the middle.
However, the ranches are the biggest bone of contention. The majority poor contend that the ranchers, in some cases stole their land and didn’t give any form of compensation. They abhor living in poverty while watching other people live on their viable pieces of land.
In a bid to protect property, the security agencies have been blamed for taking sides with the rich. The situation however got overboard when individuals became the subject of police targets. Deaths were reported and the scenario got worse. Children and the elderly at some points were hiding in the bushes of Taita. The civil societies had to intervene to retain sanity.
Police and Human Rights:
In the course of their intervention, capacity building in the matter of Human Rights was identified as a critical gap.
At the beginning of the training, there was suspicion, mistrust and general lack of respect for either side. The facilitators took quite a lot of time to design strategies that could help win the confidence of the officers.
It was important explaining that Human rights are inherent to all human beings, whatever the nationality, and place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.
The officers embraced the fact that all human beings are equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination and that the rights are interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.
Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties, customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law. International human rights law lays down obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.
We traced the history of the rights from 539 B.C., when the armies of Cyrus the Great, the first king of ancient Persia, conquered the city of Babylon. We shared how his actions that marked a major advance for Man. He freed the slaves, declared that all people had the right to choose their own religion, and established racial equality. These and other decrees were recorded on a baked-clay cylinder in the Akkadian language with cuneiform script.
Apart from the history, we touched on Chapter four of the Constitution, emphasising that there are no rights for the police, separate from other fundamental human rights. The clarification was key in bridging the gaps and limiting undue mistrust. I remember stating at one point that even though work had placed us on different ends, we are all human and our rights are human rights.
Chapter four, is very explicit of the fundamental human rights, how to assert them and the forums for engagements whenever there are threats of violation or actual violations of the rights. On the same note, the constitution outlines the fundamental freedoms which can and those which cannot be limited.
Universal and inalienable
The principle of universality of human rights is the cornerstone of international human rights law. This principle, as first emphasized in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, has been reiterated in numerous international human rights conventions, declarations, and resolutions. The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, for example, noted that it is the duty of States to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems.
The time for this is now. “We the peoples” can take a stand for rights. And together, we can take a stand for more humanity.
It starts with each of us. Step forward and defend the rights of a refugee or migrant, a person with disabilities, a woman, a child, indigenous peoples, a minority group, or anyone else at risk of discrimination or violence.
Both Rights and Obligations
Human rights entail both rights and obligations. States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights. The obligation to respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires States and subjects to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfil means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights. At the individual level, while we are entitled our human rights, we should also respect the human rights of others. The point was duly emphasised by the facilitator.
The feeling of the police:
After the sessions touching on fundamental freedoms, the officers opened up to share their situations in different places of work. Majority were categorical that it is never their wanting, especially the junior officers to violate human rights.
However, in their assertions, the political leaders of the State, especially with regard to handling demonstrations with political tones were noted to be challenging. In a number of instances, their seniors gave orders without the backing of law. Any attempt to question the same could land the junior officers in trouble, including loss of employment.
The officers noted that community police partnership ought to be given considerations in the reform of the service. It was noteworthy that frequent condemnation of the service was harming their confidence. One, Cheriot, not his real name, was forthright in the session. He said, look here, when someone calls you a thief on daily basis, you may be tempted to steal to ‘earn’ the name.
At the end of the session, the officers filed a number of cases with us. The cat was out of the bag, the officers had been victims of human rights abuses to worrying proportions. You couldn’t imagine how they kept serving the Nation with such wounds.
I just though it right to voice their concerns. As we approach the treacherous stretch of elections in August 2017, it is important to affirm that police, and their other uniformed colleagues are human beings and therefore, ought to enjoy human rights in equal proportions. Any abuse of their rights ought to be protected with the very vigour Kenyans expect them to protect everyone.
Merry Christmas and happy New Year (2017),
BY ZEDDY ADIKA
This article appears in our weekly digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 9, Issue 4 of December 23rd 2016
To receive The Deuteronomy in real time, click HERE.