Boemo Delano Phirinyane
After the Holocaust and the horrors of the Second World War, world leaders came together to work out how to build peace. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written.
This has remained to date, the first and famous document that declares how all human beings have fundamental rights and freedoms. This has by far been the yard stick that nations the world over use to defend what is right, humane and reprimand those who violate and abuse this universally accepted framework of upholding basic human rights.
But as individuals, societies and nations we have been very selective in our interpretation and defence of these rights. We have successfully and systematically sidelined other groups in society who are a minority, vulnerable and belong to an unpopular class. How best we defend and uphold the human rights charter should not be measured by how we allow them to be enjoyed by those who are regarded as normal and more human but those who are seeking to be recognized and appreciated for being different from the popular norms of society. The LGBTI group tends to be forgotten when it comes to who should have the right to protection under the Human Rights Charter according to our interpretation. In this publication, we interrogate three articles in the human rights charter that we should be defending for all that exist and live under the sun.
We are all born free and equal, we all have our own thoughts and ideas
This is the first article in the Declaration of Human Rights Charter. We take it for granted because we think we live in the real world as informed by our collective ideals and convictions which by definition are exclusive. All of us, regardless of our country of origin, race, gender and sexual orientation should have a claim to this article which is central to self-identity and actualization. We must all be free to choose who we love, how we seek to satisfy our longing for companionship. Homosexuals have for the longest time been victimized and ostracized in communities like those in Botswana, and as far as Uganda where they are dragged in the streets, stripped naked and lynched, simply for being in love with someone of the same gender. To what extent are we defending and upholding these rights that we often highly speak of?
Human rights require an understanding and recognition that we are all born free and equal, when we treat anyone in a way that is inconsistent with that we have surrendered our fight for these very same rights. The need for appreciation of all human beings can never be emphasized enough. In one of his campaign stops for Presidential nomination, the Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders reiterated this crucial article when he quoted the biblical scripture of Amos 5vs24
“but let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream, treating all people, no matter their race, color and stature in life with respect and with dignity.’’
We have a duty to other people and we should protect their rights
In Botswana same-sex acts are criminalized under the constitution through section 164. The LGBTI face substantive legal ramifications, and hostilities towards homosexuals have been expressed numerous times by government officials. Batswana have maintained a traditional and conservative approach towards defending basic rights. Our values and cultural ideals seem compromised in trying to appreciate homosexuals. Somehow our values make us sympathetic towards the plight of homosexuals and when it’s convenient we might officially express our sympathy. But we construct our values, norms and ideals to serve our societal interests, which are not related to our values which at their core are about caring for one another and working towards human civilization. But if it happens that you are in the way of how we collectivize to move forward, you are sidelined in how we interpret these basic human rights. Not only in Botswana but across most African cultures and traditions. This is clear as in the whole of Africa, only South Africa has been able to be inclusive in the interpretation of these charter by granting homosexuals access to these rights and creating safe spaces for them to exist.
We have neglected our duty towards this 29th article of the Human Rights Charter which expresses the responsibility we have towards protecting other people’s rights. We can do more here as Africa particularly Botswana. We are in the right direction as the approval of the registration of the Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals Botswana (LEGABIBO) is a step in the right direction. Now also that the issue has started occupying mainstream media and general discussions.
Every adult has the right to marry and have a family if they want to
Family contributes to the core of our being and existence, they are a source of love, shelter and comfort. However, we have simply reduced it to be more about procreation above everything else. This heteronormative description of family has made our understanding of rights blur. It used to victimize those heterosexuals who could not do it the way nature had prescribed, but because they had heterosexual privilege, we excused them and allowed them to adopt. We have conveniently chosen to ignore this argument when it comes to homosexuals, that they should have families and adopt. Under status quo we don’t allow them to enter the union of marriage as we believe they somehow distort its true meaning.
There are those who relinquish this privilege (of family) upon declaring their preferred sexual orientation, they are cast out and victimized, and if lucky enough to survive the cruel punishment of being disowned, they are regarded as the black sheep of the family, an abomination for bringing shame and disgrace to the family line. Some have even ransomed their true identity (and not revealed they are gay) for relief against abuse.
In conclusion, we have been very selective and prejudicial in our interpretation and defence of basic human rights. We have massively undermined our role in ensuring that all human being deserve and have an entitlement to protection under the famous charter as we believe that our reasoning is informed by the real world. We must recognize that the real world as lived and experienced by real people, the demand for human rights and dignity, the longing for liberty, justice and equal opportunity, the hatred of oppression and cruelty is reality. By undermining this experience, we deny the aspirations and hope of millions of people the world over, and hope is a strong defense against oppression.