Monday, August 05, 2013

HRC needs to broaden the scope of its work
By Editor
Sat 20 July 2013, 14:00 CAT

AFTER sixteen years in existence, we expect the Human Rights Commission to be well established and strong.

And with this experience and strength, we expect the Human Rights Commission to start focusing much more on things that constitute true humanitarianism, things that promote the dignity of human beings and their wellbeing.

And the enjoyment of human rights requires the fair administration of justice in the courts of law. We would like to draw the attention of the Human Rights Commission to another area of life in our society. We cannot ignore or turn a blind eye to our people's experience of unfairness and injustice; for example, those of our brothers and sisters who are imprisoned without knowing when their cases will be heard.

In a just society, a citizen must have access to an independent and impartial court of justice whenever his or her rights are threatened or violated.

We urge the Human Rights Commission to ensure that those responsible for the administration of justice ensure not only that procedures are respected but also that impartial judgment is rendered to the accused person. This will only be possible if the administration of justice is independent of all sorts of influences. Our bond of brotherhood and sisterhood is the one body of Christ and our solidarity as a people should, in love, compel us to hunger for the justice and righteousness of the Lord in our society.

In this context, we recall the words of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry: "The spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord" (Luke 4:18 -19).
This appeal for fair treatment, especially of the poor in our judicial system, should be heard everywhere. We want to recall the importance of adhering to procedures which have been instituted to promote justice and protect the rights of our people.

Those among us who have to pronounce judgment on persons and situations are to view the exercise of their authority as a service of the truth for the common good as well as for the wellbeing of the individual. In particular, we exhort the people God to respect the right of defence of those accused of having committed offences. Even the worst criminals do not lose their inborn rights.

It is also important to pay special attention to the way we treat our prisoners. In Zambia, prisoners are treated like sub-humans. A nation's humanity, and indeed human rights record, should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.
There is also need for the Human Rights Commission to start paying a lot of attention to human rights relating to economic factors. But in order to achieve these, there has to be equal distribution of wealth.

We all know the factors that limit this. Corruption is top on the list. Therefore, to achieve this, corruption has to be combated. The desire of individuals for ever greater wealth, way beyond what they ever require to live a comfortable and secure life, can only be satisfied at the expense of other human beings and the planet. In all economies, even those with high rates of growth, there is only a limited amount of wealth available for distribution. Greed and selfishness on a large scale result in some people monopolising a disproportionate share of this wealth, causing others to go short of the necessities of a decent standard of living and destroying the environment.

A well ordered human society requires that people recognise and observe their mutual rights and duties. It also demands that each contributes generously to the establishment of a civic order in which rights and duties are progressively more sincerely and effectively acknowledged and fulfilled. It is not enough, for example, to acknowledge and respect every man's right to the means of subsistence. One must also strive to ensure that he actually has enough in the way of food and nourishment.

In order to build a corruption-free society, we all have to be made to recognise our rights and duties in society. And on the other hand, the government has to be made to ensure that workers are paid just wages. A just wage is a legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or to withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay, both the needs and contributions of each person must be taken into account. Remuneration for work should guarantee humans the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for themselves and their families on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good. Wages may vary from industry to industry, but there is a just minimum below which wages may not fall without injustice. A just wage is to be estimated by considering what is required for the support of the working person and that person's family in a given circumstance; the condition or state of business or industry; and the economic welfare of the whole community.

Some of us may be well paid, but we have the moral obligation to advocate the poor and the marginalised in a spirit of solidarity. As long as a section of society is marginalised, the whole society is subsequently unhealthy. The act of solidarity will ensure that all people of goodwill join hands together to advocate just wages, reasonable living conditions, provision of social amenities and promotion of other basic human rights.

It is agreed that in our time, the common good is chiefly guaranteed when personal rights and duties are maintained. The chief concern of civil authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights are acknowledged, respected, coordinated with other rights, defended and promoted, so that in this way, everyone may more easily carry out their duties. For to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the fulfillment of each one's duties, should be the chief duty of every public authority.

To deny any person their human rights is to challenge their very humanity. And anything that takes away from a person's humanity should be a matter of concern for the Human Rights Commission. This calls for the broadening of the scope of the work of our Human Rights Commission.

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