2022 World Human Rights Day: Fix ailing economy, address human rights violations – HRRG
The increase in the world’s population has been accompanied by lots and lots of violations of the rights of people due to their colour, race, gender, place of residence and ethnicity. History records how the violation of human rights had led to devastating conflict claiming the lives of over 70 million people.
This was a result of the atrocities perpetrated by fascist Germany against minorities and independent-minded individuals before and during World War II which triggered shock and horror across the world. According to historians, the Second World War was the most devastating world war in human history.
To ensure that such an awful experience never repeats itself again, the search for shared values began. This was to ensure that people unite around a strong symbol to bring peace and unity to the world without violating the rights of anyone.
This further leads to the founding of the United Nations in 1945 and later paved way for the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 indicating to the Member States of the United Nations that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
This declaration was adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly and has become the most translated and apparently the most universal human rights document in operation in the world. The UDHR is the world’s premier human rights instrument. Its opening paragraph is a powerful affirmation of the principles that lie at the heart of the modern human rights system: “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
But what are human rights? They are simply the basic rights and freedoms to which all human beings are entitled just because we are humans regardless of our gender, race, religion, sex, language, national or social origin, property, birth or another status, ethnicity or colour with no exceptions or distinctions. These rights and freedoms are often held to include the right to life, and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law.
Human Rights are based on the principle of respect for the individual. Their fundamental assumption is that each person is a moral and rational human being who deserves to be treated with dignity. These rights are equally as important as human needs because without them the individual cannot have a meaningful life. The full scope of human rights is very broad. They mean choice and opportunity. They mean freedom to obtain a job, adopt a career, select a partner of one’s choice and raise children. They include the right to travel widely and the right to work gainfully without harassment, abuse and threat of arbitrary dismissal. They even embrace the right to leisure. Ultimately, human rights are the basis of everything people cherish about their way of life.
The Universal Declaration of human rights contains 30 articles which are categorized into civil and political liberties such as the right to life, the right to vote, freedom of expression and the prohibition of slavery and torture. Also, it contains economic, social and cultural rights which include the right to education, right to health, right to food and right to work.
It is rather disheartening to know that despite the existence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including other laws governing the various nations of the world, many individuals still have their rights being infringed upon in one way or the other. Millions are not free. Justice is often inequitable. And peace continues to elude many regions of the world.
Sadly to know, the situation here in Ghana is no different just like in other parts of the world as Ghanaians continue to grapple with issues of human rights violations daily ranging from police brutality, discrimination, violations of the right to education, child abuse, child labour, early/forced child marriages, child trafficking, suppression of LGBTQI rights, domestic violence, threats and attacks media freedom, inhumane and degrading treatment in prisons while condemning prisoners to remain on death row. The list continues with issues on women’s rights (failure of passage of Affirmative action bill into law) environmental rights, housing and more.
These worrying trends have been a major blow to all citizens and attracted the attention of civil society Organisations, Non-Governmental Organisations, journalists, and activists among others across the length and breadth of the country who could not rest but often tried in their small ways possible to stop the menace but to no avail.
One such advocacy group called the Human Rights Reporters Ghana (HRRG), an NGO made up of young Ghanaian journalists, editors, lawyers and human rights activists with the commitment to end human rights abuses in Ghana and beyond with the aim of helping Ghana achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals has been at the forefront with advocacy campaigns to end canker in Ghana.
The HRRG’s core mandate revolves around human rights advocacy, helping victims get access to justice, sounding alarmed and shedding light on human rights violations to get the attention of the authorities to act and ensure the vexing issues are addressed on time and victims get justice to ensure rights are respected, protected and fulfil to and peace prevail.
But unfortunately, the works of HRRG are hitting a roadblock simply due to the lack of the Ghanaian authorities to respond, act and address the issues of human rights violations in the country, a situation which is of great worry.
To touch on a few of such unfortunate cases, the vibrant advocacy group on May 8, 2022, uncovered a gross abuse of children rights by some teachers at the Annor Adjaye Senior High School located within the Jomoro Municipality of the Western Region. In the publication which went viral, some teachers were reported to have inflicted cane wounds on vital parts of 19 final-year students, after subjecting them to unwarranted and merciless canning including meting out to them other corporal punishment which flouts the GES ban on corporal punishment in schools.
Sadly, eight months down the line, the Ghana Education Service (GES) is yet to investigate the matter and punish the perpetrators to ensure justice is served to the victims. In a similar fashion, the Human Rights Reporters Ghana again on November 22, 2022, brought to light another gruesome incident of brute canning perpetrated against some students of Agogo State College by a teacher over their lateness to class.
This was after the HRRG received a distress message from the victims through its social media platform. Attached to the unfortunate message were photographs of some students who were beaten to a pulp with visible body marks and cane wounds which would break one’s heart.
“The students of Agogo Stage College need your help. Please, the teachers are not doing what they are assigned to do. I know this will go nowhere but if you see a picture of a teacher damaged seriously say none!”, the distress message which equally sends a warning signal partly read.
Although the HRRG acted without delay in putting out the information within the public domain on the same day with the aim of getting the attention of the authorities to act, it is surprising to know that nothing has been done.
One would ask, why is it that the continuous use of canes and application of corporal punishment in schools has been struck out of the GES statutory books yet the forbidden act keeps occurring in nearly all schools in the country and hurting our children?
Again, why are the Ghana Education Service and the Ghana Police Service refusing to act when it is all clear that the perpetrators of both incidents in the two schools have committed a crime by flouting the GES directives including breaking the laws of Ghana when it is within their mandate to investigate these matters and punish the offenders when found culpable?
Moreover, there have been lots of instances where the Ghanaian child is forced into an early marriage which goes contrary to their best interests and equal amounts to a flagrant infringement on the child’s rights and freedom making news headlines daily.
Similarly, several cases of sexual and physical abuse among others against women, children, the aged and persons with disabilities also keep occurring which are of major worry to all and sundry.
Inequality and social injustice have been very rampant as individuals are treated differently based on their colour, ethnicity, gender and place of residence. For instance, we have seen how the facilities in rural areas are of low standards, inadequate to serve the demand and not easy to have access to because of the bad roads leading to them. But this is not so in urban areas, which is a gross abuse of human rights.
As we mark this year’s World Human Rights Day, a day to celebrate the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations almost 75 years ago, we at Human Rights Reporters Ghana want to re-echo to the world that the dignity and rights of everyone still remain paramount and has to be respected, protected and fulfilled.
To ensure the vitalization of this year’s theme which is ‘Digital, Freedom and Justice for All’, we humbly appeal to the government and stakeholders to restructure policies and programs that discriminate against some groups of people. These include seeing to the completion of unfinished projects like schools, hospitals and factories in various regions.
On this special day, which marks the 2022 World Human Rights Day, also there is the need for strong enforcement of the law against any person who will infringe on the dignity and worth of any person be it through physical or sexual abuse or engaging a child in child labour, trafficking, early marriage, the system of trokosi and any related action that infringed on the rights of the vulnerable (women, children, Aged, persons with disabilities).
We are also calling on both the Ghana Education Service and the Ghana Police Service to rise up to the occasion and bring up to speed a thorough investigation of the numerous brutal canning incidents occurring within schools in the country, particularly the two high-profile cases recorded at the Annor Adjaye SHS and Agogo State College which are still begging for attention and solution and ensure the perpetrators are punished according to the law when found culpable.
The dignity and freedom of these students cannot be overlooked. This will deter others from taking for granted the rights of any individuals. Moreover, in ensuring freedom, we appeal to the government to further investigate into cases presented to the court and grant innocent individuals in prisons their freedom since many prisoners are not responsible for the crime they have been accused of.
Adding up, it is very vital for us to note that these fundamental rights are indivisible, interconnected and interdependent. That is when one right is not respected, it affects others. For instance, the violation of the right to adequate housing triggers the violation of the rights to rest, education, work and so on.
These are economic, social and cultural rights. Looking at the current economic situation of our beloved country Ghana, the right to life which includes having your basic needs met like food, clothing, and shelter as well as the right to own property and have a family are curtailed due to the economic crisis in the country. Many individuals are not able to further their education due to the increased tuition fees, denying them the right to education.
Currently, prices of goods and services have skyrocketed denying ordinary Ghanaians the right to own their own property and basic necessities like water, food and healthcare among others. Since human rights are interconnected and indivisible, the denial of Ghanaians of these rights affects others as well, making the individual not well adjusted to the environment.
We are equally adding our voices to calls on the government of Ghana to put proper measures in place to help restore the economy back to its normal state so that the ordinary Ghanaian will live a meaningful and well-sustained life.
The writer is a staunch human rights activist, National SDGs Champion and Founder/Executive Director of Human Rights Reporters Ghana (HRRG).
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