Columnists Features

Human Rights Day – Make world better place for all

we are all entitled to the full enjoyment of human rights
By LILIAN KIEFER
The international community commemorates Human Rights Day on December 10 of every year.
This is not just another commemoration. It is a day on which we are all called upon to reflect on how well we have performed in ensuring human dignity throughout the year. In the same way we are all entitled to the full enjoyment of human rights, we also have a responsibility to protect the rights of others.
In 2014, we have seen a lot of media reports highlighting human rights violations against women, children, journalists, people with disabilities and many others.
The question that arises is: for all the human rights violations that we have seen, what have we done to ensure that the rights of these people are protected and their dignity upheld?
In contributing to this cause, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has been working with journalists and other media actors to mobilise them to take more interest and responsibility in promoting human rights and speaking out against violations of people’s rights.
The point is, there are a lot of factors that underlie human rights violations and loss of human dignity – and corruption is one of them. Corruption has eroded the dignity of millions of poor and marginalised in southern Africa whose entitlements have been misappropriated by those in authority.
In 2013, during one of my visits to my home village in Nkhata Bay, Malawi, I was taken aback to find that my own people did not have safe water for drinking. Imagine, in September of 2013, with the 2015 MDGs deadline around the corner, they were drinking from a well that was dug in the mud. This is a village on the lakeshore, where the water table is very high and the people use pit latrines. the safety of the water they were drinking could not be guaranteed. Also, there was no supply of chlorine to treat the water.
When I asked why there was no safe water to drink, I was informed that the two borehole pumps had broken down and the government could not afford the MK25,000 (about US$50 to US$60) to fix the boreholes. This was just after news broke about the Cash Gate corruption scandal, where public officials looted public coffers at the expense of providing services to the people.
Corruption clearly came at a huge cost to these rural poor whose welfare was extremely affected to the extent that they could not have safe water to drink.
Misappropriation of public funds is a serious human rights violation that denies people an opportunity of a life of dignity because their duty-bearers do not provide them with a life they deserve. Public resources end up misdirected to take care of the needs of a minority few, thereby widening the inequality gaps. When people use water that risks their health, it undermines their dignity and someone should have to account for this injustice.
People deserve quality basic services and basic freedoms such as free expression, and access to information so that they can hold their leaders to account if they fail to deliver. It is the responsibility of duty-bearers to ensure that people have access to platforms for self-expression, and to be open to feedback from their constituencies.
At PSAf, we believe that it is most empowering when local people have platforms through which they can communicate their issues and participate in setting the development agenda for their areas and countries. PSAf therefore celebrates community media and other forms of communication that open up to local people including the extreme poor and afford them an opportunity to express themselves and communicate their issues the way they feel them.
The hope for this year’s International Human Rights Day is that every person will take responsibility to reflect on how best we can make the world a better place for everyone, addressing inequalities, social exclusion, corruption and other factors that undermine human rights, especially for the most marginalised and socially excluded people.

The author is executive director of PSAf. For feedback, email lilian@panos.org.zm.




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