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Zimbabweans deserve human rights too

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Street riots protesting the police killing of a young man in Greece, calls for ending the sham of US military justice at Guantanamo, the continued denial of a home for Palestinian people, the tragedy that faces the people of Haiti-the world is still full of the gross violations of the human rights of its citizens.{{more}}

It is, however, fair to say that it would certainly have been a far worse place without the focus on respecting the fundamental rights of people that is contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That Declaration, proclaimed on December 10, 1948, gave rise to what is called UN Human Rights Day.

On Wednesday of this week, the 60th anniversary of that historic Declaration was celebrated throughout the world. It was an opportunity to assess progress in the observance of the respect for the rights of human beings. There remain many deficiencies in this regard, but overall, one can conclude that considerable advances have been made over the sixty years since the Declaration. Not just in the observance of civil and political rights, the traditional manner of measuring human rights. The UN also lists social and economic rights-the right to food, education, water, health services, work etc. as equally important human rights.

It is perhaps in these areas that there is less reason to be pleased with the state of the world’s peoples, for sixty years after the Declaration, hundreds of millions, particularly in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean still exist without these basic services, their rights denied in these vital areas. War, disease and poverty seriously undermine the possibility of a worryingly large percentage of humankind ever enjoying what millions of others take for granted. The Declaration is an important yardstick by which to judge human rights progress, and the UN Human Development Index gives a set of concrete standards to measure the quality of human life.

Around these benchmarks, human rights campaigners have been able to mount impressive campaigns forcing both national governments and the international community to pay greater attention to respecting the rights of men, women and children the world over. The Latin American caudillo and his army of brutal enforcers are now largely a relic of the past, though there are some in Africa, encouraged by greed in developed countries for the riches of Africa, who still pillage and plunder on the basis of the might of the gun. Much more needs to be done to stop and then prevent the slaughter, rape and carnage in places like the Sudan and the Congo and to guarantee the Haitian people the right to the enjoyment of life, limb and liberty.

For sheer denial of the entire combination of civil, political, economic and social rights in a country not at war, it would be hard to surpass what is currently taking place in Zimbabwe. There, the glory of liberation from white minority rule has been replaced by the tragedy of life under a crumbling but still vicious dictatorship; the joy of feeding most of Southern Africa has been replaced by the sorrow of watching children wallow and die in filth as they search for tidbits; and the smiles of a once proud people have been replaced by the death-masks of cholera-stricken faces. Zimbabwe calls out for delivery from Mugabe’s hell. If the International community still has ears, if UN Human Rights Day is to mean anything to the Zimbabwean people, then voices must be raised and hands lifted to assist our brothers and sisters in that parody of a democratic state.