Human Rights Work – Is It Truly Apolitical?

by Dumiso Gatsha

The rule of a nation cannot be without conscious politics in some form. Ideologies have been long established in the Western world, with dynasties and traditions dominating the East and South. History reflects that there is no “one size fits all.” Similarly, economics has largely driven how people connect, engage in variant forms of trade, and influence politics of the day. Whether it’s through news outlets, entertainment, radio, rallies, literature or even storytelling, there are always narratives to be peddled, countered and stifled. An example of the last is that of human rights defenders. Fellow board member Gulalai Ismail has found herself in one such predicament in Pakistan [1] as well as several other human rights defenders in Zimbabwe [2]. Just like politics and economics, agents of change have stimulated discourse and accountability the world over. Despite the existence of these three components of the social fabric of society, we find that only one is consistently under threat and compromised. Political dispensation changes hands from apartheid or colonialism to other forms of governance. Economies crash or contract but still find a way to recover. Both have ecosystems that are bound to build or destroy nations. However, human rights narratives and discourse only arise when abuses are so grave that people stand up and exercise their birth right to protest.

When abuses of politics and economics persist to the detriment of the people, there is eventually civil unrest. Notably, economic plight leads to political crises, civil unrest [3], and – at its worst – war.  Despite human rights being an ideology entrenched in humankind, there remains a deficit in all situations. This includes where countries have adopted principles of democracy and international law. Even without these, humanity’s ability to be kind, care for others and respect our environments is natural to our being and existence. Regardless of religion, ethnicity and geography, there are moments when humankind is reminded of the need to pull together. For some reason, human rights abuses that include the arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, the refusal to decriminalize same-sex relations, the prevention of people making informed choices about their bodies and allowing discrimination on the basis of ‘marketability’ or ‘merit’ reflect that the worst needs to happen for society to raise concern. How many lives must be lost? How much mental tax should people have to pay for voicing their plight to the majority? How many livelihoods must be destroyed until those who are unaffected can be moved?

The problem with depending on politics and economics to measure the success of democracy and a people means that we are blind to the systematic impediments that bolster a humankind’s sustainability. Patriarchy reflects itself in the arrests of Pakistan and Zimbabwe. It reflects itself in American state laws that police women’s bodies or the Western world’s governance of sport inferring on the body of Caster Semenya and Serena William’s outburst. These occurrences are only symptoms of the systematic barriers to our existence. The patriarchy is embedded in issues of suffrage, colonial laws and financial systems that indebt developing countries generations over. We all need to be enraged with those we allow to rule over us. Their political and economic interests devalue the experiences of marginalized and powerless groups. Their greed remains an impediment to our environment, civic freedoms and livelihood. Some of these might not directly influence your life, so you must ask yourself if you are a part of the problem. Your silence, apolitical stance and ‘independence’ are helping perpetuate the patriarchy that has had too much influence on our systems of governance, law and social order.

Voting is not enough. Not having an opinion is not enough. We need to reexamine what constitutes the social fabric of the communities, places of work and other facets of life we engage in. We need to be politically correct through doing and saying what is right. The law, governments and economies we live in justify the exclusion of others. We do not need to be affected to have voice and enable visibility for these laws, governments and economics to be on the right side of history by accommodating and including everyone, not just those of privilege and power. Whether you call it effecting change, being considerate, helping another, or having solidarity, it is human rights work – even if it means all you can do is pray, donate, share, discuss, sign a petition or join a march. It’s a contribution towards dismantling the patriarchy and ensuring that no one is left behind in the future of democracy and humanity. It is enough. Say or do something.



2019-06-05T16:28:04+00:00June 5th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

About the Author:

Dumiso Gatsha
Dumiso Gatsha is the Founder of Success Capital Organisation, a grass roots youth led, managed and serving NGO that as advocated at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, UN Special Rapporteur regional consultations and other policy making mechanisms. Dumiso, based in Botswana, is a researcher & Chartered Global Management Accountant having worked/served UNDP, GIZ, Zurich, PwC, IYAFP, Green the Gene, AfriNYPE & Pledger Africa.

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