• Everyone’s voice counts / Lamin Manneh (Op-ed)

    10 Dec 2012

    Every year the International Human Rights Day is observed around the world on 10thDecember. This date has been chosen to honor the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10th December 1948.

    When the General Assembly adopted the Declaration it was proclaimed as a "common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations", towards which individuals and societies should "strive by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance".

    Importantly, the Declaration with its broad range of political, civil, social, cultural and economic rights is not a binding document, but it has inspired more than 60 human rights instruments which together constitute an international standard of human rights.

    Today, the principles of the Universal Declaration are part and parcel of our daily lives supported by the general consent of all the United Nations member states.

    It is notable that the United Nations places high priority on the promotion of, and/or respect for, human rights not only for ethical and moral reasons but also because systematic denial of human rights for sections of population of any country or society could provoke conflicts and social unrests, which tend to impede sustainable development.

    On the whole, Rwanda has made significant progress in entrenching human rights in all spheres. Rwanda’s constitution puts emphasis on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the foundation for the fundamental rights in the country. In addition, international human rights standards contained in human rights treaties and conventions are applied directly in terms of Article 190 of the constitution giving such international laws precedence over national laws. Rwanda has also ratified all Human Rights related core international treaties.

    The country has also strived to ensure respect for basic human rights such as the right to education, to health, gender equality, respect for the rights of minorities, freedom from hunger, freedom from discrimination etc.

    In celebrating the International Human Rights Day, the UN always seeks to highlight a specific issue, and advocate for the full enjoyment of all human rights by everyone everywhere.

    Against the backdrop of the Arab spring and the other large-scale mobilizations that occurred worldwide in 2011 and 2012, the theme chosen for this year's observance of the International human rights day is “Inclusion and the right to participate in public life” under the slogan “My voice counts”. 

    This theme puts the spotlight on the rights of all people — women, youth, minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, the poor and marginalized — to make their voices heard in public life and be included in political decision-making.

    These human rights — the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to peaceful assembly and association, and to take part in government (articles 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) have been at the centre of protests around the world over the past two years.

    In her message on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay stated that what happened around the world during the Arab uprising and the aftermath is not simply a question of people demanding freedom of expression and freedom to say what they think but rather it is people asking for much more than that.

    They are asking for an end to a situation where governments simply decide what is best for their populations without even consulting them. They are asking for their right to participate fully in the important decisions and policies affecting their daily lives, at the international, national and the local levels.  

    In Rwanda, the government, with support from its development partners, has further integrated these rights and principles into national laws and policies. The process of decentralization in Rwanda is an outstanding example on how to build a society premised on the participation of all. This need of participation at all levels is also recognized in the country’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

    In his message, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon underscored the point that the viability, legitimacy and success of governments depends on their ability to include citizens in decision making and public life. Institutions and public discourse, therefore, need to represent societies in all their diversity,

    In this area, the UN in Rwanda supports the inclusive participation of citizens partnering with the Rwanda Governance Board, National Forum for Political Parties, the National Electoral Commission, the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, the Media High council and the Parliament of Rwanda in order to effectively respond to all the remaining challenges.

    The Office of the High-commissioner for Human Rights focuses on increasing the capacity for promoting and protecting Human Rights in Rwanda working with the other UN agencies, National Human Rights Commission and the other stakeholders.

    As the world marks this important International Human Rights Day, let us salute all those who have suffered so much seeking fulfillment of their fundamental rights and their freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration.

    To mark this year the occasion in Rwanda, the One UN supported the National Commission for Human Rights in organizing a radio-television broadcasting emission “Kubaza biterakumenya” held on December 8th. The National Human Rights Commission also plans to bring together civil society organizations and 200 students from universities and higher institutions of learning.

    The UN in Rwanda will celebrate the International Human Rights Day together with its partners from civil society, development partners, government and national institutions based on this year’s theme around participation and making people’s voices count.

    As I have already noted, respect and promotion of human rights will always be the foundation on which peaceful and sustainable societies are built.

    Let us commemorate this day with that in mind.