Human rights are inherent in human nature. Without human rights, people cannot live a normal life. These inherent rights enable people to fully develop and deploy the human capacity of intelligence and conscience to meet various spiritual, material, social, and other needs. Human rights are based on humankind’s demand for life, in which the inherent dignity and infinite worth of every human being is respected and protected. The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that State members have pledged themselves ‘to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms’. Furthermore, article 1 of UDHR provides that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. In addition, article 2 of this international document states that:
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
It should however be noted that the UDHR does not bind the state parties. That is the reason why the UN adopted two covenants, namely, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR), to remedy the situation. These Covenants are legally binding on the states that signed them. Basically, Article 26 of the ICCPR guarantees equal protection of all persons and prohibits discrimination on grounds such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. This declaration means that all the States parties in covenants, be it European or African, should abide by the identified international rules. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa has followed this template. In fact, human rights have become the mantra of any country that cherishes democracy and human dignity.
In the same vein, as far as human rights are concerned, the armed conflicts between Russia and Ukraine cannot be ignored. Since the armed attacks began on 24 February 2022, the aggressor has inflicted 549 civilian deaths and 957 injuries on the victim state. It bears mention that the actual victim casualty figure has become much higher. Gross human rights violations are taking place. Obviously, this state of affairs poses a cause for grave concern. Civilians are being killed and maimed in what appears to be indiscriminate attacks, by Russian forces, in or near populated areas, using wide-area explosive devices, such as missiles, heavy artillery shells, rockets and airstrikes It is with much concern that the global community condemns the violation of humanitarian and international law that has come in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But an element that has been more disturbing in the conflict, is the manner in which people of African descent, who are also fleeing from the mass killings in Ukraine, have been unfairly discriminated against in terms of availability of and access to protection and assistance. According to the University World News (February 2022) tens of thousands of African students are stranded in Ukraine as Ukrainians are fleeing the war and crossing into neighbouring countries. Disturbing tales are emerging that African students and their families have been openly denied transportation that is otherwise casually afforded to native Ukrainians. Although, some lucky few African students have been reported to have received assistance from their countries, and have repatriated home, the rest are still stuck and left to suffer an uncertain future in a war torn Ukraine. This unfair discrimination is shameless and is simply unacceptable.
A further illustration of ongoing discrimination is borne out by the fact that the European Union has granted temporary protection to all Ukrainian refugees, while some African and Middle Eastern refugees in Europe remain homeless and are without documentation to confirm their identity. In the converse, Ukrainians are automatically given work opportunities. True, stranded Ukrainians deserve the priority they have received. Yet the point the writer is making is that there is a need to question why Ukrainian victims of non-European extraction are left to their own devices? True, the EU does not explicitly state it, but it is crystal clear that there is a distinctly unfair discrimination against refugees fleeing from Ukraine, if they come from Africa. In light of the above observation, it can be concluded that the Ukraine war has clearly exposed racial disparities in refugee treatment. Furthermore, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister has stated unequivocally that ‘these are not the refugees we are used to. These are Europeans. They are intelligent and well-educated people’(AP,2022). Such pronouncements are inhumane and degrading in that they feed on the unchallenged assumption that people living outside of Europe do not deserve humanitarian consideration because they are uneducated and ignorant.
The above exposition reminds one of the fact that Africa has gone through a variety of widespread human rights violations which manifested in a variety of forms, to wit, through slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, apartheid, and a raft of multidimensional extreme poverty causing policies by European institutions (Ssenyonjo, 2018). In this way human and material resources in Africa were “largely exploited for the benefit of outside powers” during colonialism. In sum, these combined forces and agencies left Africa in poverty, indicating a severe ‘deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security, and power required to enjoy an adequate standard of living.’ Hence, Africans are still bearing the consequences of colonialism. Poverty is similar to a nuclear bomb which kills millions of Africans and drives most of them to leave their countries in search of a better life in Europe and elsewhere. As humans, the declaration is made that African people are also entitled to the right to life, education, freedom of movement and protection against all forms of maltreatment. The list of rights is not exhaustive.
Having said that, it can be argued that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, should serve as a timely eye opener to all African leaders that leaders of European countries have opened doors to their brothers and sisters not on the basis of a universal humanism but on the basis of a European hegemony that claims superiority over peoples of non-European origin.
It is time for African governments to self-introspect. They should never tolerate greed and self-serving graft in their governance structures. In the same vein African governments should stop denying their fellow citizens, and immigrants in their territories, basic human rights, such as the right to life, the right to work, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to housing, the right of access to water and electricity, and so on. In conclusion, the debacle in Ukraine should serve as a call to African leaders, to stand together with a common determination to improve the conditions of life in the communities they serve. In as much as there is current global condemnation of the barbarity imposed on Ukraine, there is an urgent need, also in Africa, for agencies such as the African Union, to adopt a coordinated approach to locate and ban all forms of man-made harm and injustice perpetrated against native people of the continent of Africa by whoever.
Dr Mafuku Tholaine Matadi.