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Opinions of Monday, 27 January 2014

Columnist: Donkor, Alex

A Democracy Without Human Rights-

Preamble(Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,” “Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people”, “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”, “Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations, “Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”, “Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms”, “Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge”, “Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction” (UN 1948).

What are human rights?

Human rights are the rights and freedoms to which human beings are entitled, by virtue of their status as human beings (UN 1948). In other words, human rights and freedoms are the birth rights of all human beings. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all governments to respect, promote and protect these rights and freedoms. These rights and freedoms are articulated in United Nations conventions and treaties which become legally binding on ratified state parties (Hathaway 2007; Wotipka and Tsutsui 2008). Notwithstanding the importance of the human rights treaties and hence the mass ratifications, a school of thought contends that some state parties do not adhere to implementation of the treaty provisions (Neumayer 2005; Wotipka and Tsutsui 2008).

Paradoxically, a school of thought frets that countries with less democratic institutions will be no less likely to commit to human rights treaties if they have poor human rights records, because there is little prospect that the treaties will be enforced. Conversely, states with more democratic institutions will be less likely to commit to human rights treaties if they have poor human rights records precisely because treaties are likely to lead to changes in behaviour (Hathaway 2007).

Interestingly, the International Bill of Rights (encompassing the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) has been generally accepted by international community, and, has thus become an international law. In this regard, aggrieved individuals, whose respective countries have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional protocols for instance, may approach United Nations Human rights Council for interpretations of the treaty provisions. See, for example, Nicolas Toonen versus Australia (1994) and Rawle Kennedy versus Trinidad and Tobago (1999).

In 1992, Toonen accused Australian government of violations of his human rights based on his sexual orientation. The Human Rights Council ruled in favour of Toonen on the grounds that Australian government had violated articles 2(1), 17 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and political rights. In 1998, Rawle Kennedy was sentenced to death following his trial of alleged robbery and murder. He exhausted all the internal legal avenues and decided to take refuge in the ‘ICCPR’ Optional protocol, which aims to abolish death sentence. Kennedy took his case to the ICCPR committee. The committee granted his pleas noting that on 26 May 1998, Trinidad and Tobago denounced the Optional Protocol and immediately re-acceded with the reservation. The committee thus viewed Trinidad and Tobago’s reservation unacceptable.

The lesson we can glean from the preceding cases is that states parties to human rights treaties are obliged to adhere to the provisions within the said treaties. Nevertheless, there are widespread discriminations and violations of civil, political, social and economic rights of men, women and children, by the same governments who are responsible to respect, promote and protect the rights and freedoms of these individuals.

Ghana for instance, signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (including the two optional protocols) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on 7 September 2000(UN 2013), nonetheless, political inebriations have been ‘a standing block’ of the full realization of the rights encapsulated in the Covenants. Needless to say that by ratifying the two Covenants, Ghana has pledged to achieve, in collaboration with United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all its citizens and denizens.

Regrettably though, Ghana is not keeping its commitment to the universality of human rights, judging from the recent events. See, for example: ‘Adjei Kojo: Anguish and Destruction in Tema’ (dailyguideghana.com; 25/01/2014). Clearly, the ‘destroyers’ did not take into account the inherent dignity, worth and equal and inalienable rights of heretofore, the residents of Adjei-Kojo, and hence freedom and justice did not prevail in this instance.

“There was wailing and weeping at Promised Land in Adjei Kojo last Tuesday and Wednesday, when the Tema Development Corporation (TDC) demolished dozens of houses in that section of the Metropolis.” “In fact, some residents claimed they were never notified on the exercise, but the TDC thought otherwise and insisted they should not have been there in the first place.”

“Some of the victims still held that they acquired the lands from the traditional heads of the area, who are also laying claim to the stool land. Others claimed that the land was originally sold to them by the Slaha Chief and elders of Tema, and that the only document they had concerning the land was the indenture provided them when they bought the land” (Daily Guide Ghana, 2014).

If we are to believe the narrational account of the residents of Adjei-Kojo, we may conclude that they unknowingly bought what has now appeared as ‘stolen land’. Indeed, if this angle of the ongoing commotion is validated, then those who sold the land must be held to account as well. And, in as much as the land may be the bona fide property of ‘TDC’, the ensuing action was somehow carried out capriciously. Verily, ‘TDC’ did not attach human face to the ongoing controversy. Where is your commitment to the universality of human rights?

As a matter of fact, ‘TDC’s action is completely out-of-step with United Nations relentless efforts to achieve universality of human rights. It is worth stressing that human rights are universal, interdependent, interrelated and indivisible, and must therefore be observed as such by those we have entrusted with power.

Author: Alex Donkor, UK.