O Level Revision : History - Human Rights

Democracy encourages and promotes such rights as freedom of speech, press, religion, association and opinion. These are called human rights.

Human Rights

 Definition of human rights

  • Human Rights are universal claims or entitlements that individuals have simply because they belong to the human race.
  • It means people are born with these rights, whatever their skin colour, race, creed, sex, language, national origin, class, religion or political beliefs.
  • Some of the characteristics of human rights are as follows:

-     Universal – human rights apply to everyone.

-     Guaranteed  –  They  are  guaranteed  by  the international treaties e.g. the covenants and conventions.

-     Focus on dignity – They focus on the human being.

-     Some are legally protected.

-     They cannot be taken away from the individual.

-     They are unalienable.

-     Some of the human rights values are tolerance, unity, peace, respect for others, justice, equality, freedom and liberty.

  • Examples of human rights are:

-     The right to life.

-     The right to food.

-     The right to shelter.

-     Freedom of movement and association.

-     Freedom of speech/ the press.

-     The right to liberty and security.

-     The right to privacy.

-     The right to a fair trial.

  • All people must enjoy these rights and they are upheld on the basis that all people are born free and equal.

The  origins and  development of the concept of Human Rights

  • Human rights can be traced to Greece.
  • In  the   4th     Century   B.C.   Aristotle,   a   Greek Philosopher, taught that justice should be a guiding principle for both individuals and social conduct.
  • They can  be  traced  to  the  world’s  religions, philosophies and traditions, e.g. the belief that all people are equal before God.
  • Most religions uphold the sacredness of life.
  • Most religions do not condone the use of force and violence to settle disputes.
  • Although societies had the general awareness that human beings have certain rights, history proves otherwise.
  • Historical events are characterised by violations of human rights. The following illustrate this statement:

-     Europe, Africa  and America  were  involved in slavery and slave trade (from the 1480s to 1865).

-     Exploitation in Britain during the Industrial Revolution   brought   suffering,  misery   and death to workers (1760 – 1830).

-     During the reigns of Joseph Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler, millions of people were maimed, murdered and tortured (1920s to 1945).

-     During apartheid (South Africa: 1948 – 1994) many discriminatory laws were passed and many people including children were killed.

-     In Rhodesia there was racism and blacks had no voting rights.

-     In Rwanda the Hutu tried to exterminate the Tutsi in 1994.

  • Examples of injustices and inhuman practices or inhuman treatment are:

-     Long hours of work, up to eighteen hours per day.

-     Low wages.

-     Inadequate  housing  and  living  in  crowded conditions.

-     Poor sanitation.

-     Child labour in factories, mines and on farms.

-     During slavery and slave trade human beings were reduced to commodities that could be bought and sold.

Examples of modern slavery and slave trade:

-     Child soldiers – young children in their early teens are trained as soldiers to fight wars, e.g. Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone and Sudan.

-     Forced    marriages    (pledging    girls    into marriages).

-     Trafficking women and young females for the purpose of prostitution.

  • Mass abuses, brutalities, genocide and violations of people’s rights. Nazi Germany:

-     Killed about six million Jews.

-     Sent thousands of prisoners-of-war, Jews and non-Germans to labour camps, gas chambers and concentration camps. 

Internationalisation of Human Rights

  • The United Nations Organisation (UN) was formed on 24 October 1945.
  • China, France, the Soviet Union, the UK and the USA ratified, approved and signed its charter – the United Nations Charter.
  • It set out the rights of the UN member states.
  • The UN was determined to promote and respect:

-     The dignity and worth of human beings.

-     The   equality   of   human   beings   in   their enjoyment of human rights.

-     Elimination of discrimination based on gender.

-     The practice of tolerance and living together in peace.

-     The rise and development of the human rights concept.

  • The  rise  and  development  of  the  human  rights concept starts with the UN Charter.
  • Most  democratic  states  have  included  a  Bill  of Rights in their constitutions.
  • After the  UN  Charter  was  ratified,  the  United Nations  Declaration  of  Human  Rights  (UDHR) was then written.
  • The UDHR was written and the commission on human rights was formed.
  • The  UDHR  was  written  to  protest  against  the atrocities of the Second World War.
  • The  Nazi   policy   of   genocide   shocked   and horrified the world – killing of six million Jews in concentration camps.
  • The UDHR aimed to:

-     Prevent such atrocities.

-     Eliminate discrimination among people and all nations.

  • The UDHR is a yardstick to see how individuals, countries and communities respect Human Rights.
  • Unfortunately,  the  UDHR  is  not  a  treaty  or  a binding legal document but just a declaration.
  • The  UDHR is important because:

-     It is used as a standard of behaviour.

-     It  is  used  as  a  basis  of  appeal  calling  on governments to observe human rights.

-     Many regional and international treaties have made the UDHR into a law.

-     It has influenced the constitutions, laws and court decisions of many nations.

The  Constitution of Zimbabwe: Bill of Rights

  • Many  countries  have  bills  of  rights  in  their constitutions. Zimbabwe has a bill of rights.
  • A bill of rights is adopted in a democratic country in order to guarantee human rights and to protect citizens against abuse of power.
  • A bill of rights is a list of freedoms and rights guaranteed to all people in a country.
  • The constitution of Zimbabwe has a list of freedoms and rights. Some of these freedoms and rights are:

-     The right to life.

-     The right to personal liberty.

-     Protection against slavery and forced labour.

-     Protection from inhuman treatment.

-     Protection from deprivation of property.

-     Protection from arbitrary search or entry.

-     Protection of the law.

-     Protection of freedom of conscience.

-     Freedom of expression.

-     Freedom of assembly and association.

-     Freedom of movement.

-     Protection from discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion, creed, colour, class or political affiliation.

  • These rights are not absolute. They can be limited.

(a)  The right to life


  • It states that noone may be killed intentionally or unlawfully. People still debate whether to keep or abolish the death sentence. By 1995, 56 countries had already abolished the death penalty, one of them being South Africa.
  • In Zimbabwe the death penalty is still in force in aggravating circumstances.
  • The right to life can be limited when a person is sentenced to death on very serious crimes like treason and murder; someone is killed in self- defence or in defence of private property; when someone is killed in the process of a war.

(b)  Right to personal liberty

  • No person may be denied the right to his or her personal property and freedom. Liberty refers to the state of being free from conditions that limit one’s actions.
  • The right to liberty can be limited when: a person is convicted of an offence and sentenced to imprisonment by a court of law; an insane person is kept at a mental asylum like Ingutsheni Hospital; a person is detained by the police on suspicion of having committed a crime.

(c)  Protection from slavery and forced labour

  • No person should be made a slave, i.e. to be made someone’s property or required to do forced labour.
  • However, labour ordered by a court of law for prisoners, disciplinary work for children and work required in public emergency is not forced labour.

(d)  Protection from inhuman treatment

  • From birth, everyone is born free and should be treated with dignity.
  • Everyone  has  the  right  to  reason  and  has  a conscience.
  • No  one  should  be  subject  to  torture,  inhuman treatment or degrading punishment.
  • The  following  situations  are  not  examples  of inhuman, cruel or degrading punishment:

-     The moderate whipping or corporal punishment of juveniles or children below 18 years by their parents, teachers and prison officers as a sentence of a court.

-     The  hanging  of  a  person  who  has  been sentenced to death.

(e)  Protection from deprivation of property

  • No property should be taken away from any person against his/her will.
  • But  land  can  only  be  taken  for  the  following reasons:

-     The resettlement of people for agricultural and farming purposes.

-     Land     reorganisation     or     environmental conservation.

-     For use for natural resources (e.g. mining) and wildlife.

(f)  Protection from arbitrary search and entry

  • No one should be searched on his/her body or home unless he/she has agreed or a search warrant has been produced.
  • A search warrant is a legal document authorising the police to search.
  • People and homes can be searched in the interest of defence, public safety, order, morality and health, to prevent crime and for the protection of freedoms and rights of others.

(g)  Protection of the law

  • Every person must be protected by the law.
  • If charged everyone has the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time and by an independent and unbiased court.
  • Every person who is charged for a criminal offence shall:

-     Be treated as innocent until proved guilty.

-     Be informed in a language he/she understands of the details of the offence he/she is accused of.

-     Be allowed to defend himself/herself personally or through a lawyer of his/her choice at his or her own expense.

-     Be  allowed  to  cross  examine  all  witnesses called to give evidence against him/her and to call his/her witnesses in his/her defence.

  • A person should not be:

-     Tried  for  an  offence  of  which  he/she  was previously convicted or acquitted.

-     Tried  for  an  offence  for  which  he/she  was pardoned by the President.

-     Forced to give evidence at his/her trial.

(h)  Protection of freedom of conscience

  • No person shall be denied the enjoyment of his/ her freedom of conscience which includes freedom of thought, religion, worship and the freedom to believe or not to believe.

(i)   Freedom of expression

  • It is one’s right to hold opinions, express own ideas and pass on the ideas and information.
  • It   includes   freedom   from   interference   with correspondence or communication.
  • Freedom  of  expression  can  be  limited  by  the following:

-     Defamation: laws that protect the reputation of others.

-     The   Official  Secrets   Act   which   protects confidential information.

-     Telephone and broadcasting laws.

-     Laws may regulate schools in the interests of pupils.

(j)  Freedom of assembly and association

  • Everyone has the freedom to meet, associate or mix with any person of his/her own choice; to form, join or to pull out of any political party or trade union or any association.
  • A person may not be forced to join or not to join any organisation.
  • This right can be limited by:

-     Parents: may control the right of association of their children.

-     Laws:  political  parties  or  trade  unions  are required to seek police clearance before holding meetings/rallies.

(k)  Freedom of movement

  • It includes the right to move freely in and around the country/stay in any part of the country or enter and leave freely and not to be expelled.
  • Freedom of  movement  can  be  limited  when  a person is sentenced to a prison term; to avoid the spread of a disease when there is an epidemic.

(l)   Protection from discrimination

  • Discrimination means  the  unequal  treatment  of people on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion. Some people think they are superior to others, e.g. when whites think that they are superior to Africans and vice-versa.
  • There is positive and negative discrimination:

-     Positive  discrimination:  The  discrimination on the basis of age in Zimbabwe – a person cannot obtain a driver’s licence or national identity card until he/she is 16 years old. A person should be 18years old to register as a voter.

-     Negative discrimination: Racism, segregation and apartheid.


Limits  to human rights

  • Human rights are not absolute.
  • All rights can be limited in the interest of public safety and  order,  morality,  health,  e.g.:  to  stop the spread of infectious diseases like cholera or tuberculosis; economic and security interests of the state; defence and protection of rights of others; freedoms and reputation of others; and when being held in lawful detention.

Affirmative Action Programme (AAP)

  • Was put in place to redress the imbalances of thepast colonial era, e.g. past discrimination in education, work and promotion.
  • Women or  people  from  disadvantaged  ethnic groups or those living with disabilities were given equal opportunities in employment.
  • It was used at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and the Public Service in the 1980s and 1990s to increase the number of female students and female employees in promotional posts, respectively.
  • At the UZ, some female students were admitted with lower ‘A’Level pass points than male students.
  • In  the  Public  Service  preference  was  given  to female applicants.

Categories of rights

  • Civil and political rights – These are called first generation rights.
  • Social  and  economic  rights  –  These  are  called second generation rights.
  • Environmental, cultural and developmental rights or group rights – These are called third generation rights.

Civil and  political rights

  • These are concerned with people’s liberty. They are about the relationship between the state and individual.
  • They  protect  life  and  dignity  of  the  individual against the state and society.
  • These rights are guaranteed.
  • Legal action can be taken against the state or any culprit if the rights are violated.
  • Examples of these rights are:

-     Right to life.

-     Right to liberty and security.

-     Freedom of opinion and speech.

-     The   right   to   vote   for   representation   in government.

Social and  economic rights

  • These are  related  to  the  standard  of  living  and security of people.
  • They come second after civil and political rights.
  • They force governments to fulfil basic needs of people: food, shelter and health.
  • Governments have  a  responsibility  to  provide people with food, shelter and health care, e.g. during years of drought, floods and earthquake, or disease epidemic.
  • The government controls food prices.
  • At times it subsidises the cost of food.
  • The government of Zimbabwe has programmes to fulfil basic social and economic rights like:

-     Food for Work.

-     Health for All by 2020.

-     Education for All by 2020.

-     Housing for All by 2020.

-     Basic Commodities Supply Side Intervention (BACOSSI)

Environmental, cultural and  developmental rights

  • These are called group or solidarity rights because they recognise that people have rights in the community with others.
  • They are different from other human right     s because the others belong to people as individuals but not as members of a group.
  • The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights includes the following:

-     The right to self-determination.

-     The right to peace and security.

-     The right to development and the environment.

-     The right of minority groups.

-     The right to clean water and air.

Promotion and  Protection of Human Rights

  • Human  rights  are  promoted  and  protected  both locally and internationally by:

-     regional and international organisations, e.g. the UN;

-     local non-governmental organisations (NGOs);

-     national constitutions;

-     the police;

-     the courts of law;

-     the ombudsman (the Public Protector).

Local  Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO)

  • In Zimbabwe  all  local  NGOs  are  affiliated  to the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO).
  • Examples of local NGOs are:

-     Legal Resources Foundation;

-     Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP);

-     Zimbabwe    Human    Rights    Associations (ZimRights);

-     The   Women   in   Law   and   Development Foundation;

-     Women’s Action Group;

-     Childline.

  • These organisations are involved in the following activities:

-     Promoting human rights awareness.

-     Promoting   and   protecting   women’s   and children’s rights.

-     Protecting children from cruelty, neglect and suffering.

-     Providing education and health care.