|Linda S. Waits-Kamau
Many African states have elaborate Constitutions that spell out most of the rights of individuals that are also represented in documents such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) as well as the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which most African states have also become signatories. What happens when their rights are ignored or worse trampled?
My concern has been for citizens whose rights need to be protected based upon their own state Constitutions or in the ACHPR as well as the UN treaties states have signed. In some cases, free speech and freedom of religion have been thwarted but can be defended under the human rights of the state’s Constitution and/or the ACHPR and ICCPR.
One such case in South Africa that a CGJ student intern had worked on the previous year involved a young South African student who was a student council leader and deprived of her right to free speech and freedom of religion. The student made a comment on Facebook that had nothing to do with her school or even her country. She was making a statement about her faith, not out of hatred, but out of concern. She expressed an opinion, which under South African Constitutional Law was her prerogative, as well as under AUPCR and ICCPR. As it turned out those who opposed her opinion, which was not at all directed to any other student or persons in particular, broke into her student office and posted lewd pictures of themselves online basically trying to humiliate her.
They demanded that the student’s position as leader of the student council be taken away. If advocates had not helped her and defended her rights to free speech and religious freedom, these students who posted hateful photos and desecrated her office by breaking in and causing havoc would have been allowed to express ‘hatred’ for her when she was not expressing ‘hatred’ but a religious opinion on an issue. The case never went to court, but without legal advocates she would have lost her scholarships and maybe even dismissed from her position as a student council leader. A South African MP who had joined in berating this student decided to publicly apologize after the events about the break-in to her office and online antics were exposed as hateful acts of vengeance.
This case inspired me to fight for the rights of those whose voices are being silenced just because they are speaking about their faith or what they believe without defaming anyone. Actually, the student was being defamed and harangued. The freedom to believe and the freedom of expression and free speech must be protected.
by CGJ Student Staff Member Linda Waits-Kamau
This post was written by a Center for Global Justice student staff member. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.