By Naomi Sharang
Human rights activists maintain that “a right is a freedom of some kind; it is something, to which you are entitled by virtue of being human.
“Human rights are based on the principle of respect for the individual. The fundamental assumption is that each person is a moral and rational being who deserves to be treated with dignity.’’
Human rights advocates, however, lament that 60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the preservation of human rights, all over the world, still appears to be more of an illusion than a reality.
“This is because violations still exist in every part of the world, even as Amnesty International’s 2009 World Report shows that individuals are tortured or abused in at least 81 countries.
“Individuals also face unfair trials in at least 54 countries and are restricted in their freedom of expression in at least 77 countries,” they add.
Human rights activists say that the types of human rights violation include child trafficking, violence against women, sexual harassment, early marriage, child labour, rape, war crimes and insurgence, among others.
For instance, Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2014 said that human rights abuses by insurgents in Northern Nigeria dominated Nigeria’s human rights landscape in 2013.
“In 2013, more than 400 people died from violent inter-communal conflicts in Nigeria’s Middle-Belt states, and scores were rendered homeless from the clashes,” the report added.
To part of efforts to draw global attention to such human rights violations, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly designated Dec. 10 as the Human Rights Day.
“The Day is set aside to bring to the attention of the peoples of the world the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations,’’ the UN says.
The theme for this year’s celebration, Human Rights 365, encapsulates the notion that every day of the year is Human Rights Day.
“It celebrates the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration that each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights.
“It also reminds us that human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values,’’ the UN says.
The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, therefore, calls on states to honour their obligations to protect human rights every day of the year.
“I call on people to hold their governments to account and I call for special protections for the human rights defenders who courageously serve our collective cause,’’ Ban says.
“Let us respond to the cries of the exploited, and uphold the right to human dignity for all,’’ he adds.
Going from the general to the specifics, observers say that human rights violations still exist in all countries of the world, including Nigeria.
For instance, Mr Sule Tajudeen, an Abuja-based civil servant, insists that security personnel often infringe on the people’s rights.
“On many occasions, the police have harassed me when I never committed any crime,’’ he says, calling for the reorientation of country’s security personnel, as part of efforts to protect the citizens’ rights.
Speaking on the forms of human rights violation, Mr Emmanuel Onwubiko, National Coordinator Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), says that rights violation includes the abuse of a person’s right to life.
“In Nigeria, the most disturbing human rights violation is the abuse of the right to life and the activities of terrorists, who wantonly waste the lives of innocent and law-abiding Nigerians,’’ he says.
Onwubiko also considers the high rate of extra-judicial killing of suspects in police custody as a serious breach of the people’s fundamental human rights.
“Besides, the total lack of welfare packages for the poor in Nigeria can be described as human rights abuses, on the part of government at all levels,” he adds.
Onwubiko claims that HURIWA was set up basically to enlighten Nigerians on their fundamental human rights.
“We organise lectures annually and carry out vigorous advocacy campaigns to draw the attention of the relevant authorities to cases of human rights abuse across the country,’’ he says.
He also says that his association partners with relevant organisations in its crusade to sensitise Nigerians to their rights, privileges and duties as citizens.
The national coordinator, however, calls on all human rights groups to redouble their efforts in the fight against “gruesome human rights violations such as sexual violations and molestation of young girls’’.
Nevertheless, Onwubiko underscores the need to retrain and reform the police, while equipping them with the wherewithal to establish functional anti-rape squads in all police formations and divisions across the country.
“Above all, the Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC) must be up and doing in efforts to protect and promote the human rights of Nigerians.
“The Freedom of Information Act and the amendments of the enabling Act setting up the NHRC should be used as tools in efforts to facilitate a holistic change in the human rights profile of Nigeria, which is currently low,” he said.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mrs Aver Gavar, Deputy Director (Legal) and Head of Focal Areas Unit, NHRC, says the UN initiated the Human Rights Day, as part of the campaign to ensure the protection of the people’s rights.
“The Day is about knowing and living your rights every single day,” she adds.
Gavar stresses that human rights violations include extra-judicial killings, displacement of people from their communities and places of abode, and loss of people’s right to education, shelter and health.
“As a commission, we have observed the huge burden of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who have complained of being despondent.
“This situation could be viewed as a gap in governance, even as Nigeria is a party to the Kampala Convention, which places the primary responsibility of the care of IDPs on the government,’’ she says.
The NHRC official says that in instances of human rights abuse, the commission often intervenes by seeking redress.
She says that the redress could be in the form of compensation or by way of restitution.
She expatiates that the restitution ensures the reinstatement of the original status quo of people whose rights have been violated or trampled upon.
Gavar, however, notes that the amendment of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission Act in 2012 has increased the citizens’ confidence in the commission’s ability to handle complaints about human rights abuses.
“The number of complaints brought before the commission, particularly from 2012 to date, has doubled.
“We count this as an indicator of increased public confidence in the commision,” she says.
Gavar says that the commission regularly receives complaints on public rights issues such as forced evictions and other matters of public interest.
She says that while some of the complaints are dealt with internally — in the Protection and Investigation Department of NHRC — others that are more sensitive in nature (matters of public interest) are handled by the commission’s tribunal.
“Decisions of the commission’s tribunal have a status that is akin to that of high court decisions. Appeals against the tribunal’s decisions can also be brought before the Court of Appeal,’’ she says.
Gavar says that NHRC is collaborating with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs), adding that a lot of the commission’s success can be attributed to such collaborative efforts.
“We have met with certain NGOs to set up an agenda for the new Inspector General of Police, Mr Suleiman Abba,’’ she adds.
The deputy director reiterates that the main mandate of NHRC is to create an enabling environment for the preservation of the citizens’ human rights.
“We are proactive, and not just reactive, in our approach to human rights issues.
“We create public awareness of human rights and we also embark on advocacy visits to decision-makers who are the people in government.
“Such visits are made on the implementation of some of the laws as well as the international and regional instruments which Nigeria has ratified,’’ she adds.
Gava believes that sustained efforts should be made to encourage the government to protect the citizens’ human rights, as part of the strategies put in place to promote a better society.
All the same, human rights activists underscore the need for all countries of the world to initiate pragmatic measures to promote the fundamental rights of their citizens and guard against human rights violations.