Dignity ,Freedom And Justice For All
December 10th, 2022 marks the 75th commemoration of the celebrated Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), being the day the milestone document was brought to life. Human Rights are universal, meaning that they ordinarily should be applied to and enjoyed by all human beings without discrimination.
Decades since 1948, there has been much progress in human rights observance and protection. However, just like any pursuit, nations which have since committed to uphold it aren’t without their shortcomings in the ever continuing fight to ensure that all human beings enjoy their rights without discrimination world over. Nations have since 1948 continued to struggle with issues of resource, cultural settings, beliefs and practices among other challenges.
The UDHR has nevertheless over the past 75 years continued to be the yardstick by which many nations around the globe have shaped their own rights charters and the standard to which the entire world has been called to uphold. It has served as a foundation for a plethora of many rights old and new in a bid to protect humanity especially vulnerable groups that would otherwise undergo more inhumane suffering in the absence of special protections.
This year’s theme focuses on “Dignity, Freedom and Justice for all” and calls upon everyone to “Stand Up for Human Rights”. The UDHR in its preamble recognizes that freedom, justice and peace cannot stand without the foundation of equality and dignity among all human beings. As long as inequality still exists, there shall always be limitations to freedoms and barriers to justice which curtail peaceful co-existence between human beings.
Currently, the world at large is still grappling with the social, political and economic impact that Covid-19 pandemic left in its wake. Its negative implications still plague many nations across the globe including Uganda. At its height, the pandemic exposed glaring gaps in the nation’s ability to provide necessary sustainable healthcare, food support and fiscal stimulus to struggling persons and bodies. The economy in turn receded as a result of several lockdowns, many people losing livelihoods and others, lives. More to that, the pandemic exposed human rights abuses such as arbitrary arrests, long detentions and further showed the indignity that poverty, discrimination and racism cause. The world looked to 2021 and 2022 to open a new chapter of recovery in all affected spheres of life.
However, 2022 has since dealt the world the Ukraine-Russia armed conflict that has on its own had a ripple effect that has caused much world tension and further prompted questions on freedoms, justice and dignity of persons especially forced migrants as the world has witnessed.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has noted the wide range of human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity that have caused suffering and devastation with thousands of civilians killed and injured among whom are many children. Many actions during this armed conflict have set the international community back many years in the protection of rights and freedoms of individuals in the mass killings and torture that has been reported among other violations. According to UNHCR, the conflict has seen 7.8 million Ukrainian refugees scattered across Europe and another nearly 13 million internally displaced persons. This has created a breeding ground for even more human rights abuses especially against women, children, persons living with disabilities and the elderly. The same conflict goes further to affect the right to work, health, education, shelter and freedom of movement which are difficult to protect in the current context.
To add, the same exodus has exposed discrimination with dehumanizing treatment being meted out against people from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East in effect redefining “human” and thereby deepening divisions among nations even in the face of armed conflict. Many people of “other” descent were reported to be barred from accessing humanitarian assistance and asylum on the basis of race and nationality in the presence of opportunities that were extended to other nationals.
But more to that, the conflict has caused a shift in resource allocation from other long-standing humanitarian response initiatives towards the conflict which has been felt as far as refugees in Uganda with the ever reducing World Food Program’s food and cash ratios as well as the closure of several NGOs for lack of funding over the year due to a geographical shift in donor priorities.
The fact that world economists are warning of a coming financial recession much like or worse than the 2008 financial crisis only spreads more fear regarding the welfare and livelihoods of vulnerable persons who strongly rely on external support and worries only rise regarding whether these vulnerable groups shall be able to live dignified lives should global economies crash further having an effect on livelihoods, healthcare, education, food etc. which in turn shall affect their rights to work, access healthcare and the rights of children which undermines the response of organizations and nations whose goal it is to ensure that vulnerable groups grow into self-resilience from national and global shocks.
The world has also seen a wide debate on the freedom of expression captured under Article 19 of the UDHR which grants persons the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The debate has soared both nationally and internationally with the censure of many global leaders in politics, business, education and religion in the quarters of the world’s Third and Fourth Industrial Revolutions which involve the development of Information Technology and the Internet of Things.
Uganda has seen the enactment of the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act, 2022 that many argue curtails online freedom of expression and have come against the law for violations against the freedom of speech. The world over is also witnessing a new culture of stifling online speech with multinational organizations and governments banning and censoring free speech on online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook in line with divergent views.
The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated a digital migration in a time when people could not meet physically and the only recourse was the internet. The internet for a long time became crucial for education, work and sharing important information crucial to saving lives. It has since become a critical platform for ensuring Access to Justice through tele-conferencing, the freedom of expression and a vehicle for equality by becoming a means of sensitization of the masses on any matter.
All these have made the internet an enabler for the enjoyment of human rights and in itself has increasingly become a basic right. It even goes as far as democracy and the exercise of civil and political rights as witnessed in various internet shutdowns across the world that have greatly undermined access to the service that many depend on for various needs. Censorship and internet shutdowns only work to undermine fundamental human rights of a political, social and economic nature and therefore should be stood against.
Today, Refugee Law Project stands with all actors that have done and continue to do their part to ensure that human beings live dignified lives regardless of their nationality, race, religion, political association or otherwise and calls upon civil society actors, organizations and the government of Uganda to stand up and speak against the various human rights violations in our country and beyond and to protect survivors of violations to ensure that human rights are upheld and respected in all spheres of life.