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Human Rights and Human Dignity
October 27,2014   By:CSHRS

R. Leroy UREY

Liberia

Many people in Liberia have inadequate or total lack of basic knowledge of the laws of the country and are not aware of both the content and substance of their constitutional rights and responsibilities. 

Due to these and other factors, they do not know when their rights are violated, abused or where to seek redress.  The civil war in Liberia began on December 24, 1989, but before then, the country had been confronted with challenges, socio-economic and political conflicts which resulted into violence leading to the military coup in 1980, which evolved into even greater violence and armed conflict during the 1990's decimating sectionalization and displacing much of the population and untold human rights violations thereby necessitating the intervention of the international community to restore peace and security in Liberia.

The Economic Community of West African states was most helpful in this endeavor.

The Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) was established on March 11, 2005 by an Act creating it, which came to being as a result of Article 12 of the Liberian Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in Accra, Ghana on 18th August 2003.

The Commission has the general responsibility to protect and promote human rights in the Republic of Liberia according to the provisions of the Act, the Constitution, other relevant laws of Liberia and international human rights instruments.  It will serve as a source of human rights information in the Republic of Liberia.

Because of the civil conflict, the Commission was not fully functional until the 2010, when seven (7) commissioners were nominated and were confirmed by the Liberian Senate. 

For the past ten months, the Commission has been operational. 

I will be speaking to you on the topic: Human Rights and Human Dignity.

WHAT ARE HUMAN RIGHTS

Human Rights are rights which persons hold by virtue of them being human being. 
Human rights are "basic rights and freedoms that all people are entitled to regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, language, or other status."  Human rights are conceived as universal and unrestricted, with all people having equal rights by virtue of being human.  Actually, human rights are only for human beings as they relate to mankind and not the state.  Thus they are not dependent upon the grant of our permission or the permission of the state and also they cannot be withdrawn by sanction of the state/government.  The beneficiaries of human rights are individuals.   States have the obligation to ensure the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems.  Human rights do not consist only of civil and political rights.  These rights also cover the economic, social and cultural sides of human beings, and also the respect and love of one another as human beings.

After the 2nd World War, people felt the need of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that was adopted by the United Nations organization on 10 December, 1948 at Paris to protect the international level of human rights.  In 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was decided that a world conference on human rights be convened. 

The conference took place in Vienna in 1993, where it was established that the fundamental human rights can never be derogated by the state, even during the period of emergency, that is, no emergency justifies torture, nor can remove a person's freedom of thought, freedom of religion and the acquisition of education.

The contemporary normal and political philosophy are more likely to focus on care for human rights upon a commitment to fundamental rules, such as, freedom, autonomy, equality together with other considerations relating to the essentials of human well-being and protection.

WHAT IS HUMAN DIGNITY
Dignity of human being is an essential concept in the society as well as in the morality, because through it the quality and honour of the people can be determined, and from the sense of dignity the concept of Human rights can also be measured.  There is a common belief that the dignity of human being can be measured through commercial/economic status of the people of the society and the G. N. P. (Gross National Production) of the particular state to be used as an instrument to measure the quality of human life.  The quality of human life is a very complex phenomenon.  It is not only restricted to the commercial or economic system, rather it touches the various spheres of the people.  That is, health, food education, liberty, equality, franchise of the citizens and so on.  We have a need to know, how people are enabled to live in the society in a dignified manner and also receive affordable health care.

The concept of human dignity plays a central role in the human rights discourse.  According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, recognition of the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. The International Covenants of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on Civil and Political Rights state that all human rights derive from inherent dignity of the human person. Some modern constitutions include human dignity as a fundamental non-derogable right; others mention it as right to be protected alongside other rights. 

The current statistic shows that in this advanced age, many people are not able to fulfill their basic needs; they are not getting just and equal treatment in the various spheres of life.  Still today, many peoples are suffering from unjust wages, malnutrition, narrow health services, inequible distribution of education and also facing the problems of inhumane war, unjust arbitrary utilization of chemical weapons, and unjust distribution of natural resources.

Not only that, even in this advanced world, people are facing the problems on racism, poverty, terrorism and many other evils.  These evil problems and unjust treatments are gradually spread over in the various parts of the globe which are basically violating the human rights and dignity of people.  Human Dignity is inviolable.  It must be respected, protected and non-compromising. 

The dignity of the human person is not only a fundamental right in itself but constitutes the real basis of fundamental rights.  The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrined this principle in its preamble.  According to it, "the 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."

At the heart of human rights is the belief that everybody should be treated equally and with dignity – no matter what their circumstances.  This means that nobody should be tortured or treated in an inhumane or degrading way.  It also means that nobody has the right to "own" another person or to force them to work under threat of punishment.  And it means that everybody should have access to public services and the right to be treated fairly by those services.  This applies to all public services, including the criminal justice system.  For example, if you are arrested and charged, you should not be treated with prejudice and your trial should be fair and every person should be assumed innocent until guilty given their day in court and right to counsel.

Every human being should have the freedom to live his or her life the way they want and to make their own decisions, within reason.  This includes the opportunity to do what they want in their private life, to meet and develop relationships with other people and to participate in essential economic, social, cultural and recreational activities of the community. They should also be able to acquire and enjoy property without unnecessary interference. 

Human rights entail both rights and obligations.  States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfill human rights. 

The obligation to respect means that states must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights.  The obligation to protect requires states to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses.  The obligation to fulfill means that states must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights.  At the individual level, while we are entitled our human rights, we should also respect the human rights of others and respect constitutional authorities, our elders and one another.

(The author is Chairman of Independent National Commission on Human Rights, Liberia)

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