Human Rights begin at home


UNITED Nations Human Rights Day falls on Sunday, Dec 10 annually. To mark the day this year, a dear friend who I was blessed to have met last month asked me to transcribe a three-page hand written letter she had written on Human Rights. Admittedly, I have never really given serious thought to these things until I read that letter.
In commemoration, the UN Women organization in Port Moresby and its Sanap Wantaim Campaign team supported by the office of High Commission for Human Rights have organized a mini street concert to be held at the Rainbow Stop&Shop shopping centre premises this Sunday.
To begin to get an understanding of what Human Rights is I had to look up the definition on Human Rights as a reference point. What I realized was troubling as I put into perspective the definition human rights into our PNG society context. It is sad and discomforting to grasp the fact that our society has normalized abuses of human rights.
A quick search on the internet led me to British Columbia Human Rights Commission’s definition as the basic rights and freedom to which everyone is entitled. Human Rights are important because they respect the inherent dignity in life. A strong human rights system contributes to the health of our communities, our families and our workplaces by supporting a society that values belonging and security for all.
Human rights were set out for the first time in 1948, by the United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The five main human rights are:

  • The right to equality and justice;
  • Freedom from discrimination;
  • Right to life, liberty and personal security;
  • Freedom from slavery; and
  • Freedom from torture and degrading treatment.

We cannot deny that these rights are being abused on a daily basis in our families and in our communities. We cannot deny that we have normalized practices that abuse some, if not all of these rights.
Accordingly, our traditions have cultured us to believe that the potential of women to contribute to social development is insignificant and secondary to men’s. This disparity consequently makes women appear as mere objects and secondary beings. As a result women are not respected as much as men. Rape and other forms of sexual and physical abuse are direct consequences of this perception.
Also, anyone who expresses themselves individually in a manner not conforming to social norm is discriminated against and prone to abuse. We use violence intentionally in our effort to resolve conflict.
Furthermore, we are enslaved by employers, especially foreign business owners who pay unjust salaries to locals at the cost of our time and natural resources. We are forced to accept this because there are less opportunities for formal employment. In addition, adopted children are often treated unfairly mostly by relatives. These children comply in fear of not being cared for and loved.
These are instances in which our humanity and integral human development are continually deprived.
Finally, the Colombia website also says Human rights focus primarily on the relationship between a nation’s government and its citizens. The government is required to protect people’s rights. In this regard we cannot deny also the fact that our foremost law enforcement agency, the police force, does not have the capacity to protect everyone in PNG. That, in itself, is the biggest threat to our human rights. How can we put the fate of our well-being in a system that is not capable enough to fully care for us?
At this juncture, here is what my friend and well known female voice Matilda Pilacapio wrote two years ago in the wake of the shooting and killing of Hanuabada villagers in Port Moresby, allegedly by police officers.
“As a human rights advocate I’m concerned by the report of the special (United Nations) rapporteur who visited PNG in March 2014. During his visit he examined the level of protection of the right to life in PNG.
Efforts undertaken to prevent unlawful killing and ensure just and redress in such cases is paramount. Having been a human rights believer and advocate for the last 30 years I am aware the right to life is protected under section 35 of the PNG constitution. It may be limited in certain circumstances. Amongst which is the use of reasonable force. Law enforcers are authorized to use force when affecting arrest in terms of section 14 (1) (c) and section 2 of the 1977 Arrest Act.
Notably article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states ‘everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person’ the right to life is also enshrined in article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which PNG is a state party.
Law enforcement authority are there to protect human rights. In this regard it would be of great importance that they receive adequate training in Human Rights. Training which is practical and related to their duties. It might be worth including that there are many good and hardworking officers who go out of their way to protect victims despite of low salaries and poor living conditions faced daily.
Accountably it is important that those suspected of violating human rights should be investigated and brought to a trial that meets international standards for fairness.
Lastly and not the least there is an urgent need to move forward on the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission in PNG. It has been long overdue and delayed. The commission should be established in line with international standards. It could play an important role of investigating violations but importantly also training and advocacy.”
The abuse of Human Rights is not by a natural design but of free human choice. Although the government is tasked with providing fundamental services to ensure our wellbeing and development as a society, it is our choices that determine abuse.
Yet, how we choose is determined by how we think. The way we think is shaped according to our culture and traditions. Therefore our culture and traditions are related to the Human Rights abuses we see in our society. Hence, it be beneficial to us as a people to start to adopt new practices and do away with those that cause us to harm ourselves.
We must adopt better practices to change our culture in order for it to be conducive for the progress and prosperity of every individual person in PNG. We have to create a new ‘normal’ if we are to progress as a people. This will come with much sacrifice.
To have every Papua New Guinean make conscious and intentional decisions with respect to human rights will need the continuous advocacy of those who are enlightened. Government law and other formal systems and organizations will soon follow when we continue to advocate for change. It is inevitable.