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This book is a product of a research project called ‘voices of youth’ carried out - page 108 / 125

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A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa

(Karondo Spes, Burundi Case Study).

This evidence suggests that it is not only rebels who sexually violate young people. Government forces are also engaged in such practices. Who then is supposed to protect these future leaders in such instances?

2. Threats to Life

Few would deny that the right to life is the most important human right. This is because without this right it is difficult to see how a person can enjoy any other human entitlement. It is for this reason that most national constitutions provide for the enjoyment of this right. International human rights laws also underscore the universality of the right to life. Starting with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) subsequent treaties like the 1967 ICCPR and, more recently, the 1984 CRC have recognized this entitlement. Article 3 of the UDHR guarantees ‘everyone’ the ‘right to life’. Reinforcing this right, articles 6 of the ICCPR and the CRC provide that every person ‘has the inherent right to life’. The ICCPR states further that this ‘right shall be protected by law’. Regional treaties like the (African) Banjul Charter also offer similar guarantees. Under article 4 the right of every person to life is provided for. International human rights laws bestow a positive and negative obligation on states with respect to this entitlement. First, they have a positive obligation to promote the right to life. Additionally, they have a negative obligation to refrain from acts that would curtail the enjoyment of this right.

Let us now look at the situation on the ground. The right to life is constantly under threat in times of peace. In situations of armed conflict the threat levels are likely to increase dramatically. Nonetheless, state and non-state parties are still obligated to protect lives of those who do not take an active part in hostilities. Field data shows that this obligation is not always met. Listen to the words of Gakobwa Marie, recounting her experience:

“If a girl or a woman tried to denounce the man who raped her, [he] would kill her because it was a war situation” (Child-mother, Burundi Case Study, 2006).

This experience captures an excuse that is often put forward to justify taking away of one’s life in situations of armed conflict—we are at war, so anything goes. The next example also relates to the issue of rape/forced prostitution that was addressed in section one above. According to Gakobwa Marie:

“Girls who didn’t get pregnant didn’t escape from sexually transmitted such as HIV/ AIDS …” .

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