The first time someone told me that I need to start understanding “human rights from an African perspective”, I’ll admit, I was taken aback.
Human rights are human rights, right?
There are different schools of thought when it comes to “human rights” – one of which I only really began to understand once arriving in Ghana.
Here’s the thing:
This business of “universality” and “accepted definitions” of human rights gets a bit tricky when the laws governing a country are reflective of the cultural values of that country.
Ghana, for instance, is a UN member state and is thereby obliged to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The caveat is that Ghana is a non-secular country, where religion is very much infused in the daily lives of Ghanaians.
Let’s take gay rights, for instance. They do not exist in Ghana – hence the very aggressive campaign against homosexuals. Being gay is very much illegal in this country.
The next thing to consider here is that cultural attitudes towards homosexuality are, generally speaking, explicitly intolerant. It’s usually in this context that the notion of human rights from an African perspective comes up.
Last week, Ghana’s Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) organized a conference of stakeholders for their “National Conference on Integrity.”
It was there that I met the Deputy Commissioner of CHRAJ, Mr. Richard Quayson.
During a brief meeting with the Deputy Commissioner, I raised this notion of having an “African Perspective on Human Rights” and wondered why Ghana’s human rights commission does not support – and are moving no move to support – the rights of homosexuals in the country.
For Quayson, this rational makes complete sense. “We insist that people who subscribe to gay practice, should not be molested or discriminated against or – as it were – condemned,” he said. “But the commission will not openly support gay rights – yet.”
Change towards accepting homosexuality in Ghana will only come from the leadership of the nation. If the President – John Atta Mills – has not take a position on gay rights, neither will Ghana’s Human Rights Commission.
Qayson provided me with an explanation on CHRAJ’s opinion on why they cannot only support gay rights.
Have a listen: [audio:http://www.jhr.ca/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/CHRAJ-Mix_FINAL.mp3]
While his answer is far from satisfactory from the perspective of someone who favours the UDHR, from the perspective of someone advocating for equality, and from the perspective of someone who fears for their life because of their sexual orientation, it reflects the reality of how human rights are defined in an African context.
Whether this reality is acceptable or impalpable for you, this is the framework informing the work of rights advocates in a country where – depending how you interpret CHRAJ’s position – human rights are inappropriately prioritized or carefully strategized.