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Upholding Human Rights: Safeguarding Dignity and Freedom of Speech

Human rights are the fundamental rights and freedoms that belong to every person, regardless of their race, religion, nationality, gender, or any other status. These rights are inherent to all human beings and are essential for individuals to live with dignity, freedom, equality, and justice. The mandate of human rights is to protect and promote these fundamental rights, ensuring that every person can live a life of dignity and respect. However, the violation of human rights poses significant dangers, leading to suffering, inequality, and the erosion of the principles of freedom and justice. Furthermore, the abuse of free speech can contribute to human rights violations, perpetuating discrimination, hatred, and conflict.

In commemoration of their 20th anniversary last week, the United Nations Centre for Human Rights & Democracy in Central Africa (UNCHRD-CA) organised a two day discussion session to reiterate their work around these 20 years of promoting democratic values and rules in the sub region without forgetting their advancement on the promise of freedom, equality and justice for all. This centre covers 10 countries of the Economic Community of Central Africa. Their mandate is rooted in the principle that all individuals are entitled to certain inalienable rights by virtue of being human. These rights encompass civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, and serve as the foundation for a just and equitable society. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, outlines the basic principles of human rights and provides a framework for the protection of these rights on a global scale. The mandate of human rights encompasses the protection of individuals from discrimination, torture, slavery, arbitrary detention, and other forms of oppression. Additionally, it includes the promotion of the right to education, healthcare, work, and participation in cultural and political life. Upholding this mandate is crucial for fostering inclusive and peaceful societies where every person can flourish and contribute to the common good of all. 

Hate speech poses a serious threat to human rights, democracy and peace in Cameroon. It can fuel mistrust, resentment and hatred among different segments of society. It can also undermine public confidence in democratic institutions and processes. Moreover, it can create a climate of fear and intimidation that prevents people from expressing their opinions freely. On the other hand, free speech is a fundamental human right that enables people to express their views without fear of censorship or reprisal. It is essential for democracy as it allows people to participate in public debate, hold authorities accountable and seek information. It also fosters diversity of opinions and perspectives that enriches society. 

However, free speech is not absolute. It comes with responsibilities and limitations that are necessary to protect other human rights and public interests. According to international human rights law, ”free speech can be restricted when it constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence; when it violates the rights or reputations of others; when it jeopardises national security, public order, public health or morals”.  Therefore, there is a need for a balance between free speech and respect for human dignity, and diversity. 

That is why #defyhatenow in this light works on curbing the spread of hate speech, incitement to violence and #FakeNews through her #AFFCameroon, #Act4Peace, #ThinkB4UClick and #Media4Peace projects aimed at contributing to deconstruct false and negative perceptions online and offline. Our work focuses on creating a framework for increasing trust between stakeholders through mobilising civic action against all forms of hate speech and incitement to violence, including through disinformation created by the Covid-19 pandemic. The initiative seeks to support the voices and actions of citizens working against online induced conflict within and outside affected regions and during elections in Cameroon by bringing youth, community leaders, grassroots organisations and civil society stakeholders into a peace-oriented framework.

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