What Are We Really Doing To Protect Human Rights?

“They betrayed us,” a 35-year-old Nigerian woman who fled home in 2006 said, referring to the national security forces who abused her in exchange for food and assistance, an Amnesty International report stated.  Since 2002, the conflict in the North-East of Nigeria has escalated not only as a result of the terrorist group Boko Haram and its inhumane acts that have caused numerous deaths and displacements, but also for the insecurity that the population feels in the country -more specifically in the Bama Hospital camp- even with the protection of the national security forces. Through individual interviews conducted with 250 people who were either living or working in this camp, the Amnesty International report revealed the systematic violation of human rights committed by the Nigerian military forces and Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF). The respondents unveiled the several cases of abuse against Nigerian people, which included coercion, threats, enforced prostitution, restriction from accessing food and basic needs, among others. Women and children, in order to gain access for food, had to bestow some ‘favours’ to the military forces and CJTF. Certainly, this situation places Nigerian people between a rock and a hard place, and at a global level, it demonstrates how human rights issues are at stake.

The Nigerian case is one of the many cases around the world in which human rights are violated. It is alarmingly disturbing to read in the daily news the increasing number of cases of modern slavery, sex trafficking, and other acts against humanity, usually perpetrated by whom we recognize as the “criminals.” It is shocking when you discover that human rights are being violated not only by the people who are supposed to be the “good people,” but also that have the duty to protect and make others respect the rights which are innate to every single human being. The sentiment of betrayal from the Nigerian woman tells us the real story of many vulnerable people around the globe who are suffering from armed conflicts and civil wars. Undoubtedly, the victims of these atrocities are trapped in a world in which the bad and the good people are against them. Who are they supposed to trust? What are they supposed to do in an environment where there seems to be no way out? Unfortunately, everyday people are experiencing “human rights” as two simple words with no real meaning.

On May 22, 2018, in the 25th anniversary of the World Conference on Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that human rights were no longer treated as “a priority” but instead as a “pariah.” Although his speech was focused on discrimination and racism in the Western hemisphere, it certainly identifies and describes what is occurring in the Nigerian context as well. The military forces who are in charge of guaranteeing security to the nation and therefore to its civilians are using their power improperly, in a way that human rights are ignored. The fact that they are soldiers does not preclude them from being humans. But, if they are humans, how could they act in such an inhumane way? This makes us ponder that not only them, but everyone, at least once, has acted at their own convenience, leaving aside human rights.

Furthermore, this humanitarian crisis highlights the lack of involvement on the part of the government. According to the Amnesty International report, these camps were receiving food, water, and health supplies, but there was no control or even monitoring to reassure that these provisions were adequately used. In this regard, it is clear that not even the government has a real commitment to meet citizens’ security expectations and safeguard their rights. Hence, once again this leads us to reflect on how seriously government actors are interpreting human right issues, and whether they are consciously developing and implementing actions, while respecting human rights and international law. In this case and many others, these violations must be condemned, and the government should abolish any kind of camp or place that was built “to protect” citizens, but have been used to perpetrate acts against humanity.

There are many examples in which human rights have not been a top priority, either at a governmental level or at an individual level. If this and many other violations of human rights are happening now, in the twenty-first century, where yet, there are no wars compared to the ones in the past, and people struggles are not as huge as they used to be before, what can we expect next? Does the fact that many social movements are emerging in different contexts and backgrounds mean nothing to us? We must be blind not to realize that there are many things that are not going in the right direction, and the worst part of it is that “we,” as individuals, and more importantly, as human beings, are directing our own path to human destruction. If we are not capable enough as individuals to respect someone else’s rights, it is delusional that we ask others to do so. Thus, it is time to create change, starting with ourselves.

Ingrid Valladares Gonzalez
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