Essential Attributes of HRs: (2) INALIENABILITY

Inalienability of human rights. What does this mean? Don’t mind the weirdness of the sound of the word ‘inalienability’. The meaning is not as difficult as it sounds. But to help you understand, we ask you to pay attention to our story about Adaobi.

Adaobi, a 15 years old girl is an orphan. She had lost both of her parents to a ghastly motor accident when she was barely 3. Adaobi survived the accident with her left eyes badly damaged. From that early childhood, she had known handful of suffering as none among her relatives cared to take her up. After spending much of her little but miserable years with her grandma, a young couple finally came up requesting that Adaobi should be allowed to follow them to the city. With a quick exchange of small notes between them and grannie, Adaobi was transferred to Abakaliki where she now live under a ‘mistress’. While still away in the village with granie, Adaobi had dreamt of going back to school, of pursing life goals (she had once whispered to her mother, a practicing nurse at the time Adaobi’s mother was alive, that she would like to be a doctor). Now, Adaobi is counting her 5th year in the busy city of Abakaliki. Since her arrival in the city, all she had come to learn is how retched and cursed her life is, and how lucky she was to be picked from that poor state of her little village to come and live in a city. She is uncultured, and hence, had to receive regular beatings and heavy wipes of cords from her Madam, Mrs Clara. From the rising of the sun until it later goes to rest, Adaobi is forced to do house chores. Over time, she shrinked in size and her skins were beginning to wrinkle from days of suffering and beating.

Next to Madam Clara’s flat is Eze, a young man of about 30 years old. He had barely been around the compound beyond 3 months but had come to observe the terrible conditions Adaobi live in every day. He summoned up courage one day and approached Madam Clara, inquiring of her why she treats Adaobi the way she does. Madam Clara flared up! “How dare you question how I treat my girl. Do you know what it cost me and my husband to bring her out of that her wretched and poverty-stricken village? Adaobi is not a regular girl that deserve pampering oh. In fact, she is a witch. Do you know that if you don’t deal with this wicked girl, she wouldn’t help to lift even a grain up?


How many Adaobis do we have in our communities? They are people who are subjected to less humane conditions because of some unfavourable circumstances that surround their lives. Those who maltreat them and deny them basic enjoyments of life justify their actions on reasons of power relations between them and their victims. It is as if to say, some persons enjoy good things of life because they have the bargaining power to do so. They have the voice, the influence, and the might to attract privileges for themselves. For those who do not have these forces, they are on the disadvantage. They can be trampled on and treated as much as it pleases the strong.

This is a gross understanding of one of the central principles of fairness (justice). Human rights are not up for bargains. The good life Adaobi ought to enjoy are not what she has to be in a position of power relative to Madam Clara before she can enjoy them. Her circumstances (death of her parents, her physical conditions, her vulnerability in terms of her economic background) have not taken away her dignity and the rights she possesses, such that Madam Clara can then treat her as if she is an ‘alien’.

Talking about ‘alien’, the word came to use in 14th century as meaning “belonging to another” ( By 1600s, the word gave rise to another called ‘alienable’, an adjective describing something you could give away or transfer ownership of. ‘Unalienable’ is its opposite. By 1645 ‘inalienable’ gained currency as a synonym of ‘unalienable’, and today, it is the more common variant.

From this little history, it is not difficult to understand why Legal Dictionary defines inalienable as that which “cannot be bought, sold, or transferred from one individual to another”, and says inalienable means it is “not subject to being taken away from or given away by the possessor”.

Following from this, human rights such as rights to life, liberty, freedom of speech, and child rights such as rights to survival and development, access to universal basic education (see Child Rights Acts, 2003) are not negotiable on the basis of any discrimination. This should be our take home point. Adaobi, and her likes are not some aliens deserving subhuman treatment. If you have them in your care, rearrange your prejudices and begin to show them respect before the long arms of justice get you.


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

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: (2) INALIENABILITY

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