“Freedom cannot endure unless every generation restates and reemphasizes its value” Friedrich von Hayek
‘Every State is known by the rights that it maintains. Our method of judging its character lies, above all, in the contribution that it makes to the substance of man’s happiness’, Harold J. Laski in his book ‘The Grammar of Politics’. Thus the State is not a sovereign organization because it is able to get its will obeyed by the people. We obey the State and give it our allegiance because of what these are supposed to serve-happiness, dignity, larger freedom and rights, equality, accountable services, protection, etc.
The State therefore has three levels of obligations vis-à-vis our human rights: the obligations to respect, protect and fulfill. The State should refrain from violating or interfering with the rights of its citizens, including the prohibition of certain acts by the Government or its agents and employees that may undermine the enjoyment of our
rights. The State has the obligation to prohibit and prevent individuals, or groups of individuals, from violating each other’s rights. This would imply ensuring adequate access to legal remedies in case of violations by third parties and not conniving with or allow any third party to destroy people’s rights. The State has the obligation to put in place laws, policies, structures, enabling environment and all those things necessary for people to enjoy their rights.
In our march towards a new, democratic society; in our commitment and allegiance to ‘Never Again’, one would expect that those who know what it means to live under a dictatorship for 22 years, a non-free environment where rights were mocked at and shackled, would be the greatest and unapologetic adherents and proponents of human rights and larger freedom. These people, who fought dictatorship with their blood, sweat, lives, property, suffered privation, torture and imprisonment, are not supposed to take the regained and ‘emancipated’ freedom for granted. They are supposed and expected to know better.
However, one does not have to look into the crystal ball to be frightful of the future, of the possibility of creeping back to those dark days when some duty bearers, in their overzealousness, are weakening our enjoyment of rights and freedoms in New Gambia, our free society.
In the greater society, the hoarse voices against human rights are threatening, worrisome and confounding and should be taken seriously. They are people calling for the curbing of human rights; others who believe that the rights are ‘too much’; people who are calling on the President to ‘have a nice smile and a gun in his hands’ and those who are yearning for the ‘halcyon’ days of Jammeh, when dissenting voices were silence and ‘everyone lived in peace’.
If we are not to forget our unique experience, we have the responsibility to stop these rights violators and ‘hoarse voices’ in their track. Freedom is lost when free people lack the ability to preserve or fight for it when it is attacked, denied or violated; freedom is lost when free people surrender their rights and lay them at the feet of one individual; freedom is lost when free people take their freedom for grant. In all these circumstances, people find it difficult to regain the lost rights and freedoms.
Our democracy is not in danger; we have some people, who, by their open hostility or inadequate appreciation, are endangering our rights and freedoms or our enjoyment of them. We need a strengthening and enlargement of our freedoms and rights, not any ‘democratization’ of our new-found democracy or Gambianisation of human rights.
Certainly rights are correlative with functions, with the fulfilment of certain responsibilities. We have rights so that we are able to make our contributions to the social end. Thus, we have no rights to act unsocially or to do as we like or to act against the public welfare. But even if we do, even if we act irresponsibly or violate the rights of others, we still expect the State to respect, protect and fulfil our rights, to follow the due process and observe the rule of law. Individuals can think with their hearts and be emotional and emotive; we expect the State to think with its head and heart, to always remember its obligations. As Vaclav Klaus said in his speech ‘Celebrating Freedom’……
“We see the importance of morals and morality for the functioning of human society, but the rhetoric of moral righteousness on the side of various immodest public intellectuals is not part of it. Such rhetoric reveals their strong authoritarian tendencies. They want to impose their values on others and are convinced that they know better than the rest of us what we need, what we want, and what is good for us. They want to protect us from ourselves.”
Preserving freedom is a dailly struggle; it can be won and lost for lack of diligence and vigilance. As Ronald Reagan said in a speech in November 1977: “Freedom is something that cannot be passed on genetically. It is never more than one generation away from extinction. Every generation has to learn how to protect and defend it.”