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Human Rights Day… have we achieved enough

South Africa celebrated Human Rights Day earlier this week. Human Rights Day in South Africa commemorates the 69 women who tragically lost their lives in the Sharpeville massacre on 21st March 1960.

It is very important as South Africans to celebrate Human Rights Day as it reminds us that many South Africans paid a very high price for freedom and the right to vote.

But, would the women, who lost their lives on this very dark day in South Africa’s history, be satisfied with what we have achieved as a country? Would they be satisfied with the achievements and the calibre of our leaders in government, business and civil society in South Africa?

While Apartheid has been dismantled, and South Africans aged eighteen and above have won the right to vote, we still have many human rights issues and concerns.

Human Rights Watch concerns in South Africa include corruption, respect for the rule of law, attacks on refugees/asylum seekers and the right to education – around half a million South Africans with disabilities do not have access to education.

High on my own list of human rights is the right to personal safety, and the right to personal dignity. Red flags on my list include domestic and sexual violence against women and children, and the protection of the most vulnerable in our society including children, the elderly and medically indigent and mentally ill.

Other concerns include the fact that so many households, including schools, do not have access to water or toilets. Access to your own school desk and a functional, safe classroom are also basic human rights.

What about South Africa’s neighbours, do they fare any better? The Human Rights Watch list of concerns in Zimbabwe includes attacks on the human rights defenders and on freedom of expression in the media, and the fact that laws permitting child marriage have not been repealed.

Concerns in Angola include freedom of the media, abuse by security forces and the highest child mortality rate in the world.

Concerns in Swaziland include freedom of association, human rights defenders and freedom of expression and the media.

Interestingly enough, Botswana and Namibia were not on the Human Rights Watch list.

Human rights issues are a huge concern globally, many countries fare far worse than South Africa and her neighbours.

As leaders, it is imperative that we send a very strong message in our organisations, families and communities that we believe human rights are sacrosanct and that we will stand up and ensure that these are protected. As individuals, we have considerable influence through the ballot box. We need to ensure that the leaders that we vote in are accountable and respect and protect all human rights.

As the ‘ink dries’ on this article, news has just come in about the attacks in London, which have left five dead and forty injured. The United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights lists the freedom of thought as a human right. The right to hold different political or religious views to the establishment must be respected. However, the right to kill, injure or maim others, because you do not agree with the political or religious status quo can never be tolerated; this is a gross violation of human rights.

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