By Peter Ndahiro
This year’s commemoration of the International Day of Human Rights by Never Again Rwanda, came under an anniversary that made it unique to all those that had come before it.
This year’s celebration marked 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, on the 10th of December 1948, as resolution 217 in Paris, France.
Although this historic moment can seem like something that does not concern the local citizens in different corners of the globe, commemorations of the declaration continue to be observed all over the world, due to its role in assuring that nations teach and educate to promote respect for rights and freedoms using progressive measures.
Never Again Rwanda has been commemorating the International Day of Human Rights through national conferences since 2012 under various themes of discussion. This year’s national conference which took place on the 11th of December 2017 invited civil society; members of parliament, NAR affiliated youth clubs, and development partners, to deliberate under the theme of “Stand up for Equality, Justice and Human Dignity”.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Joseph Nkurunziza, the Executive Director of Never Again Rwanda, stated that this conference would be an opportunity for all stakeholders to come together and celebrate human rights, while also addressing challenges and looking for solutions to solve them.
The Executive Director also noted that “This year’s theme is stand up for equality, justice and human dignity. Let’s all strive to promote those three principles that are at the core of all the human rights, let’s be our neighbor’s keepers by protecting our rights, but also protecting the rights of others.”
The acting USAID mission director Leslie Marbury expressed her delight to reflect upon the tireless framework that is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with Never Again Rwanda.
“It is a great time to reflect on this tireless framework, for proclaiming the rights that all human beings are entitled to regardless of their gender, race, status or religion. USAID and the US government stands with institutions like Never Again Rwanda, in standing with those who struggle with the realization and protection of their human rights. We believe that promoting human rights is closely linked to advancing long term sustainable development.”
The national conference kicked off by analyzing human rights trends in Rwanda, it’s achievements, challenges and priorities. Andrews Kananga, of Legal Aid Forum, noted that causes of genocide linked to inequalities that existed in society.
“This country has known the tragedy of genocide, and the causes of genocide are linked to inequalities that existed in our society. We saw people not getting education, no access to justice, and massive human rights violations. The existence of inequalities in our society is one of the reasons we experienced genocide.
But now we have seen progress. We are equal before the law, we have good legislation, we have access to courts and legal representation, so in terms of policies and law’s there is no doubt we now see equalities in our country.”
Mary Barikungire of Rwanda Women’s network, addressed the achievements and challenges towards gender equality in Rwanda. She answered a question on women’s rights and participation in Rwanda, whether the 64% woman representation in parliament reflected progress in the human rights area.
“When women get to a certain level, people always question their participation. But if it were men then they would not question it. We are in a context that truly embraces equality, but we need to interrogate how we as a society perceive it.
In order to fulfill the ‘no one left behind’ agenda, we need to bring women on board and get strategies on how to bring even more women on board.”
Linking back to the universal declaration which drives the significance of this day, Me Laurent Nkongori affirmed that the universal declaration has been totally domesticated by Rwanda, and that the Rwandan Ministry of Justice has made great efforts to domesticate human rights within society, especially the notion of human dignity.
“Rwanda and the Ministry of Justice have made a lot of efforts to domesticate. It is always necessary to put those international conventions into our legislation, and to adapt them. They have been voted somewhere outside the country, so we have to adapt them to our context. We domesticate these international conventions by assigning duties to people to protect them.”
An attentive audience posed questions to the two expert panels. A young member of the audience asked the first panel who should be responsible for teaching citizens about their rights, while another member of the audience posed a question concerning striking a balance between women representing their political parties, but also representing the empowerment of women in politics and proper representation.
Dr. Joseph noted that “It is our responsibility as civil society, to ensure that citizens know and understand their rights. When we started the ‘Inzira Nziza’ project, we realized that the young people don’t understand their rights and they don’t even understand what the constitution says, even those who voted for it during the referendum.
We understand that is our responsibility to make sure citizens know their rights, that is why Never Again has introduced the education pillar, we are trying to find a way to integrate human rights and peace education in primary and secondary schools. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us but especially the civil society, that can hold the government accountable, but we also need to be accountable to them.”
Some of the recommendations that came out of the national conference, included making it a necessity to educate Rwandans on their rights as per the law and the application of those rights, translating laws into local languages in order to allow citizens to know and understand them, and also drawing up data on the current trends in order to attract government partnership on projects such as ‘Inzira Nziza’ that work towards the protection of human rights for all people.
Dr. Joseph Nkurunziza closed the national conference emphasizing that the key words that have come out of the deliberations are “MONITOR, ADVOCATE, SENSITIZE and INSPECT.” These key words can guide Never Again Rwanda and other stakeholders in the human rights arena, in creating the environment for continued consolidation of human rights principles in society.
The writer is a Communications Executive with Never Again Rwanda