Human Rights Day 2022
[10 December 2022]
Dignity, Freedom and Justice #StandUpForHumanRights
In an address she gave in Paris on the 10th December 1948, the former first lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, said:
“Where after all do human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world”.
She said this at the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [link], which was the forerunner of nine core international human rights instruments and dozens of treaties and conventions. It was a milestone in the history of human rights and for the first time set out fundamental rights to be protected universally throughout the world. So important is the Declaration that the day it was signed, the 10th December, has been designated Human Rights Day.
This year the 10th December marks the beginning of year-long commemorations of the 75th anniversary of Human Rights Day. The theme for the year is:
Dignity, Freedom and Justice For All
The three elements of the theme – dignity, freedom and justice – permeate the Universal Declaration. They are highlighted in the first paragraph of its preamble:
“recognition of the inherent dignity … of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”
and in its first article, which states:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
The concept of human dignity is the belief that all people hold a special value intrinsic to their humanity, that they are worthy of respect simply because they are human beings. It is regarded as the most important of the fundamental human rights, aside from the right to life itself. Unless human dignity is respected, other rights can seldom be realised. It is the gateway to all other rights.
Once we respect a person’s dignity we also respect their right to freedom. Freedom in the Universal Declaration means several things:
freedom of thought, conscience and religion (article 18)
freedom of opinion and expression – the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas throughout any media (article 19)
freedom of peaceful assembly and association (article 20), and
freedom of movement and residence (article 13).
Justice for all
If the right to human dignity is to be respected it must be enforceable in a court of law. Access to justice is a basic principle of the rule of law and is a necessary element of article 7 of the Universal Declaration, which states:
“All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”
Message from UN Secretary-General
In his message for Human Rights Day, Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said:
“The world is facing unprecedented and interlocking challenges to human rights. Hunger and poverty are increasing – an affront to the economic and social rights of hundreds of millions of people. Civic space is shrinking. Media freedom and the safety of journalists are in dangerous decline in almost every region of the world. Trust in institutions is evaporating, especially among young people. … Racism, intolerance and discrimination are running rampant. New human rights challenges are emerging from the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. And we are only beginning to grasp the threat posed to human rights by some new technologies.
These trying times call for a re-ignition of our commitment to all human rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social. …
The 75th anniversary of the landmark Universal Declaration on Human Rights next year must be an opportunity for action. I urge Member States, civil society, the private sector and others to put human rights at the heart of efforts to reverse today’s damaging trends.
Human rights are the foundation for human dignity, and the cornerstone of peaceful, inclusive, fair, equal and prosperous societies. They are a unifying force and a rallying cry. They reflect the most fundamental thing we share – our common humanity.
On this Human Rights Day, we reaffirm the universality and indivisibility of all rights, as we stand up for human rights for all.”
Human Rights In Zimbabwe
The Constitution of Zimbabwe provides the country with a sound foundation for a human-rights based multi-party democracy. Many statutes have been amended to bring them into line with the Constitution and with international human rights standards, though more needs to be done.
There is however a gap between what is laid down in our laws and what happens on the ground. Developments during the year have raised concerns over the justice system in Zimbabwe. There has been continued “catch and release” of well-connected persons accused of corruption; opposition politicians have been arrested and kept in custody for months on end awaiting trial, in disregard of the maxim “Justice delayed is Justice denied”. Allegations of violence and torture by State agents and ruling party activists continue. Human rights activists fear arrest without a fair trial. Rumours of corruption in the judiciary and endemic delays in the delivery of justice have lessened faith in the judicial system. The Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill is continuing its passage through Parliament, bringing fears of further restrictions in civic space in which non-governmental bodies can access information, express themselves, associate, organise and participate in public life. Any restriction in civic space affects the protection and promotion of human rights for all Zimbabweans.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s words are as true today as they were when she uttered them: human rights affect all people at all levels in all nations, and they begin “in small places close to home”. The duty to respect human rights lies not only with the government but with every single individual in Zimbabwe. All men, women and children are equal before the law and all have a right to dignity and freedom – that should never be forgotten. It should also never be forgotten that all men, women and children have a right to protect their own rights, while respecting the rights of others. We must all stand up for human rights.
Human Rights Day and the ensuing year of commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a time for all nations, and everyone in Zimbabwe, to reflect on the meaning of the Declaration and to reaffirm our commitment to the principles enshrined in it.