Zimbabwe: Teach Yourself Human Rights!

12 December 2018
opinion

You're a human being, and you're entitled to some absolute or conditional rights. Sculpting time to read the constitution in a school, workplace or home environment may seem difficult. Dates such as 10 December or the human rights day; pressers from human rights organisations; and listening to the media about what the Zimbabwean Government is doing to launch portals to end gender based violence may happen perchance. You and I sometimes violate someone's rights and/or breach some constitutional duties. This is why I feel you can teach yourself human rights.

You may benefit from a family of respecters for human rights, peer counselling groups, courses on human rights, interaction with civics, Government ministries or fourth space organisations such as the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Zimbabwe Media Commission and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.

Sometimes you learn about human rights from a community- based organisation, a church, dating partner, fellow prisoner, radio presenter or friend. During your young or adult life you may think that you have better things to do than focus on contentious issues such as human rights. You wonder, thinking human rights are against your views on cultural relativism or cultural particularism. On the surface, you're doing okay. You don't want to descant upon alien doctrines. You respect others and earn (you never demand) your respect. You're never at toilet training when it comes to upholding constitutional duties or some legal issues.

But your insides are anything but okay. Soon you may realise that you want to know the laws on marriage, elections, victimhood, insolvency, environmental impact assessments and so forth and you realise you have to understand many things around human rights. A big part of getting to do this is by way of involving yourself in reading around human rights, so that you know the duties of respecting, protecting, promoting and fulfilling someone's rights while enjoying or asserting your own rights.

Here are some things to remember: For Zimbabwe, the Constitution of 2013 is our blueprint to follow. It tells us that human rights are founding values and principles. It also gives us a Bill of Rights which has civil and political rights such as the right to life; economic, social and cultural rights such as education, healthcare, food and water and freedom from arbitrary eviction; and collective rights such as environmental rights and elaborated rights on women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and veterans of the liberation struggle.

As the soul of our nation envisages, the Constitution has limitations, interpretation section, presumptions and duties that must be followed when interpreting the Bill of Rights. It is also full of provisions on institutions of the State and other organisations which must enable citizens to fully realise human rights.

Its reference to various rights and duties demonstrates the need for such people to be both right holders and duty bearers of human rights in some unique ways. Some functionaries, officers and citizens are far from perfect, but they can learn and help Zimbabwe commit to human rights. You and I may choose to end impunity for tractability; to end injustice for justice; to shun totalitarianism for democracy; and to end conflicts for building golden bridges. In return, we become a nation committed to shatterproof love, unshakeable unity, well-oiled harmony and unceasing friendships.

By design, Zimbabwe celebrates unity in diversity. We all should seek one thing: a Zimbabwe where the citizens and the powers that be respect each other under rights constitutionalism. We desire to be a nation which respects human rights and other tenets of democracy such as the rule of law, separation of powers, constitutional supremacy. We need to commit to these tenets so that we democratise and build transformative institutions for the present and future generations in this nation frequently identified as a jewel of Africa.

We've now walked for 38 years, long enough to be able to look back at both the gains and losses in our human rights life. We can shape the future we want through our perceptions, attitudes, opinions and dialogues on human rights. Human rights brought Zimbabwe out of colonialism. They saved various sections of our populations from dominance by other groups, they were used to emancipate and empower individuals and communities where hope had been lost, and they help us continue to emphasise ruminate on constitutional rights under a transformative constitution.

If you are a victim or survivor of, say, gender based violence you can learn and know that the Constitution and other laws can be used to bring you wholeness, reconciliation, justice (in its variant forms) and healing. You can use it to get a declaration of rights or compensation. You can participate in activities on constitutional litigation so that society becomes aware of the empowering Constitution provisions. A constitutional community provides a safe checklist on the given rights; the rights fought for; and those discoursed and deliberated upon. The time you sacrifice to learn about your own rights and duties is never wasted.

If everyone upholds their duties to respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights, then certainly they should be able to use this knowledge to defuse a situation or shed light in a dark place. Whether it will be through theatre arts, activism, media reportage, institutional or visibility campaigns, positive social impact activities, or swaying to the beat, human rights deserves our attention.

Teaching your peers or those in your inner circle are critical interventions and if we all place value on regular teachings on human or constitutional rights, it is my hope our nation will mimic this behaviour in collective fashion. You don't necessarily need a rights guru to teach you. Human rights need you to simply commit to their realisation.

Sharon Hofisi is a lawyer and UZ lecturer. 

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