December 10th each year marks the Human Rights Day in commemoration of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The African Democracy Forum (ADF) joins the world in commemorating this historically significant date with special focus on this year’s theme: STAND UP FOR SOMEONE’S RIGHTS TODAY.

Human rights are an inherent and inalienable component of each human beings existence in as much as they do not infringe upon the rights of others. Bearing this in mind, people who are living in societies where their rights and freedoms are curtailed in any way are grossly violated as their very humanity is threatened. For a person to live and live freely to his/her full potential, it is important that their human rights are upheld and respected.

The narrative on the upholding and promotion of Human Rights in the world is both worrying and an eye-opener on the path that lies ahead. Amnesty International, in its annual 2015/2016 report, stated that more than 122 states tortured or otherwise ill-treated people; 30 or more illegally forced refugees to return to countries where they would be in danger and at least 19 countries had cases of war crimes or other violations of the “laws of war” committed by governments or armed groups.

The Freedom House 2016 report ‘Anxious Dictators, Wavering Democracies: Global Freedom under Pressure’ also highlights the overlapping crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent which contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.

In the African continent, cases of Human Rights violations have been rampant and seemingly on the rise. There have been several reported cases of enforced disappearances, abduction and torture in Zimbabwe with the whereabouts of activists such as Itai Dzamara still unknown and many tortured/injected with unknown substances. Thearbitrary arrests of protesting citizens, which stands at 11,000 according to government released records, in Ethiopia has also been categorized as politically motivated attempts to silence citizens who are campaigning for and defending their rights.

There has also been an increase of human rights violations linked to electioneering periods in the before, during and after phases as discussed further in our article:‘Human Rights Violations and the Correlation to Elections in Africa’ These include banning or violent interruption of opposition rallies, excessive use of force by security agents and banning of airing of opposition related content by media outlets.

It has not all been gloom and doom as several gains have been made and commendable steps taken to promote human rights in the region. These are in terms of laws such as the East African Legislative Assembly Anti-Trafficking in Persons Bill aimed at protecting the citizens of the region from human trafficking cartels. 26 hostages, 21 abducted school girls and 10 activistswere released/ rescued in Somalia, Nigeria and Mauritania respectively. One of Sudan’s largest rebel groups, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) also signed an accord with the United Nations to end the use of child soldiers in the war between the Sudanese army and rebels in the southern regions.

The gains and challenges that exist in the scope of Human Rights in Africa are a self-evident demonstration that the work that lies ahead, though not easy, isachievable. The task of ensuring that human rights are upheld and promoted across the continent,however, cannot be left to national institutions and non-governmental organisations alone. Each one of us has a responsibility to ensure that the exercising of our rights and freedoms does not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others within our societies. We must also be keen to speak up when the rights of others are violated and take measures to ensure that the violations are stopped and prevented from reoccurring. As Martin Luther King once said, “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” Let us all, then, live this year’s theme and STAND UP FOR SOMEONE’S RIGHTS TODAY!

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