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Ensure human rights are not just on paper



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Today, the world marks 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

This followed the ravages of the two world wars that redefined the geopolitical and diplomatic relations among nations.

On that date in 1948, the world proclaimed the inalienable human rights for every individual irrespective of race, colour, creed, religion, gender, language, political persuasion, origin, birth or status.

The most fundamental spin-off from the declaration was that it triggered an irresistible drive for the liberation of the then colonised nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

For Africa, the clamour for political independence began in earnest after the Second World War and, for Kenya, resulted in political liberation in 1963.

The world has since made steady progress in institutionalising human rights.

In Kenya, the monumental achievement was realised with the enactment of the 2010 Constitution with an elaborate and robust framework for exercising the rights. But this came at a cost.

The post-colonial experience was marked by widespread human rights abuse.

Political repression, mysterious deaths, detention without trial and incarceration of those perceived to be anti-government was the order of the day.

Rights abuses have also been witnessed in various other facets of our national life — such as the economy, education, health and environment.

Despite the express provisions of the Constitution, human rights abuses persist. Police brutality and extrajudicial killings, gender violence, oppressive laws and practices, and economic marginalisation are common.

Rights such as that to education and health and freedom of speech and association — are routinely trampled upon.

Matters have been complicated by the technological revolution, which has demolished terrestrial boundaries and opened up communities like never before.

Personal liberties such as privacy and protection from offensive and harmful commodities and content can no longer be guaranteed.

Whereas technologies have empowered individuals and expanded democratic space and connections, they have also exacerbated inequalities.

The digital divide is a threat to realisation of an egalitarian society as envisioned by the framers of human rights.

For Kenya, the lesson is that we must maintain surveillance. Anchoring human rights in the Constitution is not enough if not accompanied by a firm resolution to enforce them.

Social, economic and political inequalities do not augur well for peace and stability.

Such imbalances elicit deep hatred and negative competition, which manifests in ethnic violence.

We have every reason to look back, assess where we are and commit ourselves to enforcing and enabling citizens to fully enjoy their rights.