Saturday 10 December is International Human Rights Day. This annual event commemorates the adoption, now 63 years ago, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. Every year the UN, its member states and citizens across the world celebrate Human Rights Day.
South Sudan has emerged from decades of conflict and instability, and the challenges it now faces as an independent country include security, the provision of basic services, jobs and the construction of core infrastructure. For many people here, especially those who were involved in the fighting, human rights seem like an optional extra, not a priority that each and every citizen should enjoy and seek to uphold.
But to ignore human rights now, or make it a lower priority, fails to recognise the impact human rights can have on stability, prosperity and building the state that South Sudanese people have fought so hard for.
There is a significant human rights challenge for South Sudan. Violence against women is commonplace; people are detained for no reason; and the freedom of movement of citizens, and occasionally those of us here to represent foreign governments or the UN, is inhibited. Poor communications limit the ability of communities to monitor violations and report these to local, state and national government.
Leadership from the Government of South Sudan and media professionals will be essential. Recently the South Sudan Union of Journalists (SSUJ) called for total press freedom in South Sudan and for the protection of individual journalists. In an interview with The People’s Voice, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin described Freedom of the Press as “the cornerstone of the democratic process”, adding that journalists must “feel free to say what they want to say as long as it is within the media laws”.
Social media has an important role to play in facilitating the freedom of expression and association, by providing a platform for young people to voice their views and concerns. From as far away as Cairo and New York, people take part in online conversations on issues ranging from transparency to women’s rights. On International Human Rights Day this year, the British Embassy, Juba is focussing on our social media outputs.
This Saturday, 10 December, I will be holding an online Question and Answer session between eleven o’clock and midday. I would like to hear, via our UK in South Sudan Facebook page, about your awareness of human rights, about methods you use to express yourselves, and how you and your community access the news, whether online or via local radio and newspapers. I look forward to reading your contributions to the online debate.
Upholding and defending human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, is not just empty promises or idle words but must be lived out in what we do each day. Defending human rights is vital to the development of a pluralistic and democratic society, and to ensuring government works transparently and fairly towards prosperity for all in South Sudan.
To join our online debate, visit our Embassy Facebook page.
Find out more about Human Rights Day 2011 on the UN website.