Human rights are nothing more than table manners; they must be observed and respected at all times

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By Njundu Drammeh

The State, and all her organs, agents and employees, have the obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of her people. The State is the primary duty bearer and the people are right holders or right claimants. Through this relationship, right holders can demand rights from duty bearers who have obligations and can hold them accountable.

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The State, and her agents, cannot and should not violate or take away the rights it gives or it has duty to uphold or safeguard. That would be the lowest level of betrayal. Who would the citizens run to in the first instance for protection? If the police who have an obligation to not torture people become torturers, then who can the tortured turn to? They can go to court to seek redress but they might still need the police, the torturer, to investigate and or prosecute. When the State fails in its obligation to respect human rights, it greatly compromises its obligation to protect. When trust is lost, seeking redress becomes difficult.

 

Torture is wrong, illegal, no matter how is it is instigated or what provokes. Freedom from torture is a non-derogable right in international human rights law- no circumstances diminish its enjoyment. No provocation can justify it.

 

What agents of the State, especially our law enforcement, must understand is that they can become rights holders too. A police officer can violate the law but we do not expect him or her to be manhandled by other police officers when they go to arrest him or her. In this situation he is a right holder and the police officers who have gone to arrest him or her are duty bearers and thus have the obligation to respect his or her rights. Mark you this.

 

It is not for nothing that law enforcement is referred to as “disciplined” force. Your regimen and rigorous training, of body and mind, is expected to make you super tolerant and patient, and composed in the face of provocation from right holders.

Certainly, right holders are expected to be responsible in the exercise of or demand for their rights. Rights are not empty claims, to be exercised irresponsibly. We have them because we are members of a society and owe duty to that society. In the exercise of our rights, we ought to be mindful of the rights of others which we have no right to violate or infringe. See, that is when the State exercises its obligation to protect. We are supposed to be law abiding too. That is part of citizenship.
But this is the catch: even if a right holder acts irresponsibly, disobeys the law or infringes the rights of others, he or she still has his or her rights which the duty bearer must respect. We do not lose our rights because we act irresponsibly. Stealing is illegal but none has the right to torture a thief. Stealing does not take away rights the thief has. Our rights are inalienable.

 

Remember that respect for human rights is imperative, obligations on the State and her agents. It is only in the respect for human rights that we can flourish as a society. Our development, security and peace can only stand on a foundation of human rights. Any other they stand on is sure to collapse like a house of cards.

 

And yes, Police in the USA are trigger happy, especially against a black person. But that is not exemplary and we cannot our police to look up to those. For our “Never again” to be never again, we must set the bar very high for ourselves and encourage all to reach them. Never again cannot be reality if we continue to hanker after the past, allow the past to determine our practices or applaud violations in the present. What lessons have we learned? How are the lessons shaping our attitudes and practices?

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