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By Anne Kiruku
East African News Agency

Arusha 15 December 2017 (EANA) – As the world celebrated the 69th International Human Rights Day, the East African Community partner states turned a blind eye to a day that signifies the inherent rights of all human beings across the world.

The day was set by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that is said to be nearly rivalling the Bible as the most translated literature in the world; it is now available in more than 500 languages.

This is a document that recognises the inalienable rights of every human being regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national, social origin, property, birth or other status.
Although most countries in the world have made progressive changes in line with the document, many others – including the EAC partner states – are yet to integrate the letter and the spirit of the document into their national laws.

Anne Kiruku

Although we cannot underestimate the milestones the region has made in upholding fundamental human rights, women continue to be oppressed and their rights violated. Basically, women have had to fight for themselves so as to be heard and accorded their rightful positions in society, despite their fundamental human rights being enshrined in the document.

As the world embarks on an year-long campaign leading to the 70th Human Rights Day commemorations in 2018 and the 50th anniversary of the two international covenants – one on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the other on Civil and Political Rights – adopted by the UN General Assembly on 16th December 1966, the EAC should not be left behind in reflecting on these areas. It should be a year when fundamental human rights are upheld and elevated to even greater lengths.

Some partner states have made little or no progress in upholding the basic human rights of their citizens, the most violated being the freedom of speech and assembly.  In Burundi, Ethiopia and to some extent Uganda, the situation tends to especially deteriorate just before and after elections. The descent into a political and human rights crisis was a shocking low in Burundi in 2015 during elections that most people across the world criticised for their illegality after President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term.

Kenya has had its lows, too, especially this year during the general election, when scores died at the hands of security forces. Women and children have lost their lives during political violence over the past three months due to trigger-happy police officers. The opposition has protested the killing of its supporters.
Overall, it has been a sad season for human-rights activists across the region, with their work crippled by governments. Many activists have died, while others have gone through physical and psychological torture for their firm stand and pursuit of freedom from oppression.

A leading human-rights activist in Burundi, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, narrowly survived attempted murder and escaped with serious injuries for his role in criticising the oppressive regime. Still in Burundi, four popular private radio stations were closed down by the government during the political heat in 2015, further curtailing freedom of expression. Around the same time, the country’s interior minister suspended 10 civil-society groups, accusing them of spreading violence.

In Rwanda, political space and free speech remain severely restricted. Only a few opposition parties function, with weak independent organisations due to years of intimidation under President Paul Kagame.

In Kenya, the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta has been notorious for clamping down on human-rights groups. During the 53rd celebrations to mark Jamhuri Day last year, the president made distasteful remarks belittling the immense work done by non-governmental organisations in educating the masses on governance. Those remarks were followed by a massive crackdown on NGOs, especially those involved in advancing democracy.

Yet, the role of CSO’s in delivering development programmes and empowering citizens cannot be denied. Their work automatically leads to greater awareness and agitation for human rights and social transformation, which is perhaps why they are so detested by despots.

Any government that fights CSO’s is at the verge of sliding into dictatorship. Governments across the region should stop violating human rights and scapegoating NGOs for their ineptness. A serious government should work hand-in-hand with CSOs in an effort to make good governance, transparency and accountability a reality.


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