In a scattershot reaction at my detest of beating of suspects of petty crimes by local leaders, Bishop Reuben B. Kisembo makes misleading contradictory statements, fails to counter the substance of my opinion, and appears to support use of a tool favoured by forces of repression. I find it strange coming on the heels of a statement of Catholic Bishops demanding for respect of rights.
I have no choice other than respond to challenge his misconceived arguments.
What got the Bishop going was my recent article (published on my blog and in the Saturday Monitor of June 18, 2016) stating that no one has power to whip people away at will, regardless of what they have done.
I contended that it amounts to degrading punishment and hence, unconstitutional. I provided legal backing for my contentions. In many respects, I simply restated what the law says about the given facts.
In the open letter, the Bishop demanded that human rights defenders should give ‘us’ a break on rights. He argued for “traditional African settings (where) elders would sit and instantly resolve conflict, offense or crime.” Of course, in cherry picking, he conveniently ignores all the ills known of male dominated elders’ clubs such as their horrendous record of marginalising women, the poor, the minority, the weak.
In a strange attack on rule of law – I am much aware how ill the system is, the Bishop dismisses the “Western judicial system” as very “bureaucratic” that it takes “decades to dispose a case.” Either the Bishop does not appreciate the fundamental importance of due process in a fair hearing or he is so frustrated by our judiciary that he thinks kangaroo courts presided over by ‘elders’ would better deliver justice. Either way, its an indictment on our criminal justice system.
In the second last paragraph, the Bishop yet again makes an unfounded assertion. He writes, “people should be helped know that we reap what we sow.” Well, it is important to note that no court of law would sentence a person accused of deforestation or early drinking to capital punishment. So, technically, it is not what one would reap for the alleged actions. What they would reap is expressly provided in the law.
On human rights, he writes, “this pretext of defending human rights has abetted crime in society.” He further faults “the so-called human rights” of being the cause of wide spread impunity, lawlessness, mob-justice, among other ills in society. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I find it interesting how he takes a dreary approach to claim “You can’t steal and begin talking about human right when you get caught.” I will not labour much on this. Our law is clear. Suspects, whether caught red handed or otherwise, have rights. Addressing your mind to Articles 23, 24, 43 and 44 of our Constitution would be helpful. I hope constitutional provisions, however ‘naked, impotent, and illusory’ they are (of which I think they are), – still matter.
Beating or whipping people is a form of torture. Torture is abhorrent. It is barbaric, cruel, degrading and inhumane. It is an act of terror that defeats rule of law and can simply never be justified.
If one has reason to believe someone has committed an offence, take him or her to court. If courts are not working, find solutions to make the system work.
I know of the thought that human rights are an invention of bourgeois West. But I also know that human rights ideas were formulated historically by biblically-based traditions. Strands of the Jewish and Christian religions are deeply ingrained. The impetus of theological insights certainly benefited the foundations of human rights concepts.
Thus, in my humble view, for a Christian to deny or dismiss universality of human rights is, in fact, a denial of the deepest insights of his or her faith. Human beings are made in the ‘image of God.’ That gift confers an inherent dignity on all humans. Freedom from degrading punishment is right up there on protection of dignity – it is at the heart of our shared humanity.
Human rights principles are based on tolerance, universality, love, and human dignity.
If I may add, those who savagely violate rights plead special conditions, public interest or order. They do not ask to be given a break on rights.
Politically, the Bishop’s argument can be seen to feed the interests of rights abusers. It waters down the very last line of defense for the vulnerable, minority, oppressed – the groups the church should look out for.