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.
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;
- 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.