Today, 10th December, 2020, is the International Human Rights Day. A day earmarked for the commemoration of adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 – the landmark human rights document- which set the tone for the post-modern human rights discourse proclaiming the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as a human being regardless of their gender, religion, colour, political opinion or socio-economic status as espoused specifically in article 2 of the UDHR.
The theme for this year’s celebration is “Recover Better – Stand Up For Your Rights”. The theme is very appropriate given the massive social disruptions and challenges the world is currently confronted with arising out of the scourge of the coronavirus pandemic which has swept across almost every part of the world. For instance, the World Health Organisation reports that as at December 4, over 64 million cases have been recorded, out of which over a million deaths have also occurred.
Beyond the unfortunate loss of over a million lives, job opportunities have also been severely affected leading to closure and in some cases total collapse of several businesses pushing tens of thousands of people out of work or source of livelihoods. Experts therefore warn that the loss of jobs will push millions around the world back into poverty derailing the gains made thus far thereby undermining global collective efforts in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
The ravaging effects of the coronavirus pandemic as it is being experienced around the world have thus brought to the fore than ever the urgency for creating a more egalitarian, inclusive, responsive, equitable and above all adopting human rights based approach towards development.
Making the Day Relevant
As the International Human Rights day is being marked across the world, it should not be taken as a mere ritual of celebrating a UN sanctioned day, and thereafter, life returns to normal. Rather, the day should be a point of call for a sober reflection on how far as a society we have fared relative to fulfilling our human rights obligations. It should be a moment for questioning some of the systemic injustices and oppression which undermine the rights, dignity and autonomy of marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities, children, women, persons living in poverty, ethnic minorities and older persons.
Often times, the call for respect for human rights have faced certain backlash such as being considered as neo-colonial strategy, undermining African values, granting unfettered freedoms to individuals and groups among several other concerns. While some of these criticisms may be borne out of genuine fears, it is however, important to underscore the fact that human rights values and norms, have emerged to hold in check abusive state and non-state actors and ensure accountability to a very large extent. They have further empowered marginalized groups and individuals throughout history to assess themselves and demand recognition of their agency, autonomy and protection of their rights from the overbearing influence of the State and non-state actors.
As rightly articulated by Paul Hunt, the Chief Commissioner of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission that “human rights do not provide magic solutions to immensely complex problems. But they provide anchor and compass. They can help steady the ship-and chart the way forward”. This means that despite the complex challenges society is confronted with, human rights norms and values nonetheless provide a sense of direction and hope in confronting them.
While this day is being observed, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice(CHRAJ), admonishes the Government and the Ghanaian society to carefully reflect on the following :
* Firstly, how society has fared in deepening the culture of respect for the rights of the marginalized?
* Secondly, what has been the reaction of the Ghanaian society toward victims of Covid-19 and their families?
* Thirdly, how have the issues relating to gender inequality which finds expression in all facets of the Ghanaian society been addressed?
* Fourthly, for policymakers and state actors, how have the international human rights values and standards underpinned policies and economic development agenda?
* Fifthly, how has the ‘best interest’ of the child been factored in the national responses to issues concerning children?
* Six, how are we addressing the challenges that Covid-19 presents for the Ghanaian society from a human rights’ lens in enhancing effective and better recovery? and
* Lastly, how is Ghana implementing the Sustainable Development Goals in line with the human rights standards and principles?
Reflecting on the above critical questions serve as a reminder as it interrogates both national and societal responses, and commitment with respect to the recognition of the fundamental human rights of all persons living in Ghana, which can also strengthen further, existing efforts in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
A Call for Change
This day provides an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to human rights values as a society, as the Commission also encourages Ghanaians and all other nationals living in Ghana to embrace these values even more in these critical moments where the global pandemic has affected socio-economic policies across nations.
While the Commission notes some significant progress chalked as a country on the human rights front over the years, it believes there is more to be done in this regard and so again encourages the government, businesses, civil society organizations and other non- state actors to reflect on the critical issues raised above and put in more efforts to continually support the Commission to facilitate implementation of its human rights mandate and ensure that the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all persons living in Ghana are promoted and protected.
CHRAJ wishes all Ghanaians a happy International Human Rights Day celebrations!
By Human Rights Department & Corporate Affairs and Communications Unit of CHRAJ.