Debate: Human Rights Day, contribution by UDM Member in the National Assembly (16 March 2010)

Mr Speaker and honourable Members,

We are gathered here today to debate Human Rights Day. As always we must commemorate the fateful events that took place in Sharpeville.

But allow me to look at those events from the perspective of the here-and-now. When we remember the crowds in Sharpeville fleeing before the police and their guns, we must also ask why we are daily confronted with similar images across our country. Why is it that in our hard-earned democracy legitimate protests must be met with excessive force by the police?

Why is it that a young man can be arrested at the side of the road by marauding VIP police officers on trumped-up offenses that don’t even exist in law? What does it say for a human rights culture that such official thuggery can continue for 24 hours of unlawful arrest, including the extraction of a coerced apology as well as the ransacking of a private citizen’s home?

Perhaps most telling of all, why is this matter seemingly beyond official interrogation by Members of Parliament?

Human rights and the freedoms that underpin our democratic society depend on a culture of tolerance and protection by the authorities and the ruling elite. When the authorities and the ruling elite find excuses and justifications for disrespecting or undermining those rights, then we are on the slippery slope towards tyranny.

It is a sad reflection on the leaders, in whose name such gross misdeeds are committed, when they fail to condemn these transgressions.

In the broader context we must remember that respect for human rights do not only impact on the rights of the individual, but plays a pivotal role in nation-building.

We seem to be living at a time when some members of the ruling elite do not believe in nation-building and the reconciliation which allowed us to achieve a peaceful end to Apartheid. The callous public insults and hate speech practised by some prominent individuals undermine nation-building and make a mockery of our efforts to build a human rights culture.

It would do all of us well to recall that all human rights stem from the principles of respect and the inherent dignity of all people. It means that our conduct, especially when we are figures who command public platforms, must be respectful of other people, even our political opponents.

I thank you.