Sometime in May 2013, the Republic of Kenya, together with two of her counterparts, Zambia and The Gambia, received the prestigious Resolve Award from the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health. Briefly, the Resolve Award was launched in 2011 as an annual award issued by the Aspen Institute. The Award recognises countries that are surmounting various challenges to bring essential reproductive health services to their people and celebrates progress made by governments towards delivering on the promise of universal access to reproductive health. We must therefore begin by celebrating our nation’s achievement. Indeed, impressing a Council comprising of 18 sitting and former heads of states amongst others, the Honourable Mary Robinson, Her Excellency Joyce Banda, Honourable Gro Harlem, Vice Admiral Regina Benjamin and Honourable Tarja Haloren is by no means an easy step.
The Award comes at an opportune time when mothers all over Kenya are celebrating the reprieve granted by the Jubilee Coalition which on 1 June 2013 issued a directive waiving all fees payable by mothers for maternal services at public health facilities. In recent times, we have in addition seen other efforts by the Kenyan government aimed at transforming access to reproductive health services and lowering maternal mortality. First, there is the constitutional recognition of reproductive health as a fundamental human right under Article 43(1)(a). There is also the enactment of many visionary policies and guidelines, including the National Reproductive Health Policy and the comprehensive Population Policy for National Development which places family planning at the centre of Kenya’s development agenda. Additionally, there is also the Child Survival and Development Strategy and the National Road Map for accelerating the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to maternal and newborn health in Kenya.
The freedom to form opinions and express them without fear of repression is a fundamental tenet for the development of a pluralistic, tolerant, and democratic society. This right represents not only the right to privacy of individuals to hold opinions and formulate thoughts, but also to express them in a public forum, especially as part of exercising the right to political participation. In addition, the right to access information, that is the right to seek and receive information, which also forms an important component of this right and which has added significance in the current age of information technology, is intrinsic to the transparent functioning of a democratic government and the effective and well-informed participation of civil society. In this context, freedom of opinion, expression and information is one of the core civil and political rights as it is essential for the exercise of all other human rights.
The right to freedom of opinion, expression and information is well-established and protected at both international and regional levels both legally and institutionally. The right is enshrined in various international instruments, namely: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19), the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (Article 5(d)(viii)), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 13) and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (Article 6). The main international human rights body within the United Nations system, the Human Rights Council, also provides through its system of special procedures for a Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, which was established in 1993.
Xenophobia, just like so many other unsettling issues in South Africa, is gradually becoming part of the way in which we are perceived as a society. The newest upsurge in xenophobic violence clearly indicates that we have not made significant progress since the problem surfaced in 2008. More unsettling however, is the unwillingness of South Africans from all levels of society to acknowledge and address the problem – media houses neglect to conduct in-depth investigations, politicians fail to express their concern over the issue, the South African Police Service controversially fuels public perception through its involvement in incidents regarding foreign nationals, and civilians exercise mob executions with self-righteousness and pride.
The South African Constitution offers protection to citizens and non-citizens, and is one of few constitutions in the world that indisputably does so. The preamble of the Constitution reiterates South Africa’s commitment to uphold the rule of law, and this commitment greatly depends on consistent application of the law in South Africa. It is imperative that South Africans understand that our own claims on the protection of and rights entrenched in the Constitution depend on respecting the rights of others. Arbitrary mob killings of foreign nationals during the past five years suggest that South Africans struggle to come to terms that all people are equal before the law. Allegations of foreign nationals being involved in criminal activities often lead to mob justice, which is a dangerous step towards corroding the rule of law, and eventually the Constitution upon which our society so greatly depends.
A same-sex union is known to be a sexual relationship between people of the same sex; namely, between two or more males or two or more females. This relationship often described as unnatural and amongst the Christian and Islamic faiths in Nigeria is general not accepted. Without any intentions of making an ideological or philosophical argument on the issue of the morality of this kind of relationship, I would like to explore the human rights implications of passing of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill in Nigeria on 31 May 2013.
The new Bill refutes any benefits that may accrue to a marriage and restates that such a marriage will not be recognised, even when contracted outside Nigeria. It further outlaws the gathering of people of the same-sex and provides in very wide terms “directly or indirectly” liability for any person or group that is involved in a same sex relationship. It further stipulates a minimum period of 10 years imprisonment for direct or indirect involvement in issues concerning the rights of people of the same-sex. In enacting the Bill, the House of Assembly of Nigeria propose a $40million internet monitoring project to clamp down on people involved in same-sex unions.
On 22 August 2012, Angola enacted a new Children’s Act, adding to the number of African countries (including South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Lesotho, and many others) which reviewed their legislation focusing on children’s rights. Angolan law, like many other recent African legislation on children, is comprehensive and detailed in multiple aspects of children’s rights. Some of its features are common in other similar instruments in the region. For instance, it protects children’s civil and political rights and their socio-economic rights. The right to life, the right to health and the right to basic education, amongst others are protected. In addition, the law entrenches the four principles forming the core of international and regional treaties dealing with children’s rights (the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) included), including the principles of non-discrimination (Article 2 of the CRC and Article 3 of the ACRWC), best interest of the child (Article 3 of the CRC and Article 4 of the ACRWC), the right to life survival and development (Article of the 6 CRC and Article 5 of the ACRWC), and the right of the child to participate (Article 12 CRC and Article 7 of the ACRWC). These principles are also part and parcel of other modern African child legislation.
A detailed account of the similarities between the Angolan Children’s Act and other instruments falls beyond the objectives of this contribution. However, I would like to highlight some of the major contributions (amongst others not discussed here) as a result of the Act, in efforts to advance children’s rights.