Essential Attributes of HRs: (1) UNIVERSALITY

Earlier this year, a young boy ran to our office crying for help. He was physically distressed and had a deep and fresh wound on the back of his head. The boy’s face and shirt were terribly stained all over by blood. He told us, his father inflicted the head-injury on him, and that it was not the first nor the second time he had suffered similar fate from his father. A team of HRCRC staff followed the boy to his parents’ home for fact-finding mission. It was discovered that his father had inflated the injury on him because of his ‘stubbornness’. When the father was found and questioned as to why he had to beat his child to that extent, he bluntly said: “na you go teach me how I de take raise my children? Na my child e be na. Ah! I can do whatever I want na. Forget tha’una human right thing. Na oyibo matter o. Here na Naija abeg”.

Like the father of the boy referred to above, many believe that the entirety or some aspects of human rights (HRs) claims are not applicable to some persons (sometimes, because of the location, race, gender, culture, religion, profession, and other accidental attributes of such persons). Others (especially in Africa) even hold it that the notion of HRs is alien to them. To these persons, gender equality, social equity, child rights, fair wage, and other issues on the fore front of international struggles to improve human conditions are simply noises from individuals who are probably seeking attention and sympathy.

The assumptions alluded to above are misconceived, and it is what #KnowYourRights post this week wants to address. Rights due to A because A is a human person should not be denied to B if B is a human person. This is simple logic, and it is the basis of the universality of rights. If you were to find “the lowest common factor” between a child living in America, an adult woman in Asia, and an adult man in Africa, you cannot avoid the conclusion that they are all human beings. Our common humanity demands that we all share in equal dignity. Hence, the forms in which our humanity manifest (that we are black, male, female, pastor, son, wife, physically challenged, from the east or west, a Christian or Muslim, etc) is inconsequential to the obligation we all owe each other. It is that we are to respect human dignity wherever the human being exists.

If you consider the foregoing and relate it to our story, the boy’s father cannot absolve himself from gross failure to treat his child with human dignity by subjecting the latter to torture. His being a Nigerian (as if Nigerian laws permit that parents can do anything to their children) is immaterial to the demand of fairness in this case. In fact, Child Rights Act (2003), a federal instrument of law which has been domesticated in many states of Nigeria (including Ebonyi) expressly criminalises torture and other maltreatment of children. Also note that the law does not care whether such children are yours biologically or by other means (including acquisition for help or fostering).

In the case of care for children, the wise sayings of Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected President of South Africa, is apt for consideration. Mandela once said: “We owe our CHILDREN the most vulnerable citizens in any society – a life free from VIOLENCE AND FEAR.” Whether a child is in Umuezekeoha in Ezza North LGA of Ebonyi State, or in New York City, the child deserves special care for the reason that (1) their dignity is the same, and (2), “Children [everywhere] are our most valuable resource” (Herbert Hoover).

To conclude thus, it should be noted that HRs are not some discretionary privileges that may be enjoyed by some and not all human beings (take home point for this week’s #KnowYourRights post). To drive home the strength of this assertion, Barbara de Mori (2002) succinctly puts it that HRs exist “independently of recognition or implementation in the customs or legal systems of particular countries”. In other words, the universality of HRS is such that cultural or other idiosyncratic claims about certain HRs tenets does not hold in reference to claims concerning HRs values.

Contributors: C. O. Ikegbunam Esq.
C. A. Nwankwo Esq.
D. A. Okoliko

The young boy with his wounded head

This is a free educational material and not a source of legal advice. If you need any, please consult your lawyer.

Essential Attributes of HRs: (1) UNIVERSALITY

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