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The Sanctity of Human Life and the Responsibility to Protect

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“Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” - Article 6.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

What else matters if human life does not? What else counts if human life doesn't? What else could be said to be valuable if human life is not of importance? What does it matter that the economy is growing, if human life counts for nothing? What does it matter Super Eagles will be playing in the world cup or that Nigeria has a new or acting President if human life can be heedlessly taken away?

Right to life is a phrase that describes the belief that a human being has an essential right to live, particularly that a human being has the right not to be killed by another human being. Citizenship and legal residency in a country should guarantee that no harm comes to the individual's life, health, liberty, or possessions.

In religion and ethics, inviolability or sanctity of life is a principle of implied protection regarding aspects of sentient life which are said to be holy, sanctified, or otherwise of such value that they are not to be violated. In Christianity and Islam (which are the two dominant religions in the society), the concept is based on the belief that all human beings have souls or are created in God's image.

Some scholars argue that religion originated as a result of the fear of the unknown. Thus religion was borne out of the need to guarantee immortality by removing the fear of death. Other scholars argue however, that religion was borne out of sincere inspiration, if not divine, at least directed to a good result, to combat the chaos and the random cruelty of nature, and to bring about higher behaviours and social relationships.

The writer understands that the right to life is not as infallible as it seems at first glance, deprivation of life is permitted under certain circumstances: (a) in defence of any person from unlawful violence; (b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; (c) in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection. However, it is the needless killings and absolute disregard for the sanctity of human life that is very worrisome.

The Nigerian societal beliefs and values are gravely hypocritical and unjust. A growing child in Nigeria is often taught to differentiate between right and wrong and advised to always choose right. By the time an individual matures from a young child to an adult, they have been taught an uncountable number of life lessons. One of the exceptional lessons that each and every person has learned is that killing another human being is wrong. This is perhaps the first recognizable lesson on the value of human life. Most children know that killing is against the law and learn religiously that it goes against all religious morals and beliefs and societal values, yet the Nigerian society is bombarded by everyday violence that is appalling and inexplicable.

It then defies logic how these children grow up to be armed robbers, murderers, rapists and kidnappers. For a people who profess some much love for God and equal affection for religion this absolute disregard for human life is a sickening contradictory irony. Today, the value of human life can be questioned, especially that of the weak and vulnerable. Through numerous examples of murder and killings it is rather obvious that the lives of the weak and vulnerable are not valued to the degree that they should be. In most cases, the weak, poor and vulnerable are not recognized as people and are routinely robbed of their human rights and freedoms.

The wholesome slaughter of the vulnerable in Nigeria has shown that anything can be used as a weapon for extermination. What makes the difference, in the last analysis, are not tools, nor technologies: it is the willingness of people to kill. To voluntarily kill another human being is the most atrocious crime that could be committed by man. It brings man morally much closer to the animal kingdom. And this behavior sinks its roots in the animal instincts, and can be sublimed only thanks to cultural evolution of human civilization.

The Roman Philosopher Cicero articulated the Ancient Greek idea that reason

uplifts all human beings over the rest of nature. This special status does not yield rights, but duties: because reason lifts man up over animals, man should use reason and not behave like animals. For him it is the freedom of man's reason that uplifts him over the rest of nature.

The incessant ethnic/ religious/ economic/ social conflicts threaten to tear down the very structure of the Nigerian State. Every conflict has its causes remote and immediate; every act of killing is justified in some way, self defence, retaliation or otherwise. The conflicts get so intricate that every new slaughter is often justified as reprisals for earlier killings. This then creates a vicious cycle of violence that goes on and on. To distinguish between just and unjust wars is therefore an inappropriate way to arrive at political and ethical judgments on in this conflict. In fact, any war, any revolution, any resistance, even if borne out of noble motivations (e.g. to get rid of a coercive, violent and liberticidal regime), becomes wrong, as soon as it blemishes itself by the first homicide. This is a dilemma which all those who have had to take up arms against others (friends, neighbors, strangers and oppressors) have to face. Those trying to invoke the principle of self determination and others fighting their ethnic/ religious causes have to remember this, and give a thought to the fact that violence is a double edged sword that cuts both ways.

The writer holds a lot of respect for the faiths, especially when they lead to the disinterested voluntary work (and not to the market of faith in exchange for money).

Taking into consideration all such premises, the question should be asked if the monotheist faith of both Christians and Muslims, has for since some thousands years proclaimed a law that says "Do not kill", why then do the ardent of these faiths not respect their own law? The writer wishes to avoid any temptation to unload the responsibility: the responsibility for the failure to apply this law falls on the entire society.

The Islamic Holy book the Quran says "Whoever kills a person that has not killed anybody or has not committed an horrendous sin, it will be as if he had killed the whole humanity”. (5:32)

While the writer does not set out to minutely analyze the differences among the different monotheist religions, however, the words of the Quran are quite enthralling: to kill a person is like killing the whole humanity. The Quran corroborates the writer's belief that every killing potentially deprives humanity of a vivacious thought, a carrier of innovation and dynamic quality.

This concept, of the absolute preciousness and sacredness of each and every human life, is the message all community leaders (Spiritual and Temporal) should imbibe in their flocks. All people, any faith to which they belong, should adhere to it, and to work inside their own communities, so that it is adopted and fully metabolized. Each life is precious because it could bring a fundamental wedge, for the solution of the problems that hinder the further growth of the Nigerian Society.

Nevertheless, it has to be considered that, for people who have had relatives killed, the pain is the same, and the same will be the desire of revenge, leading to the perpetuation of the chain of hate; a real social poison. It is exactly such poison that communities should strive in every way to eliminate: to be precise, the social poison that originates from murder, whatever its motivation, whether moral or immoral.

A rather disheartening but also optimistic conclusion was reached by the writer, the Nigerian society has slipped back to the State of Nature as espoused by British theorist Thomas Hobbes (in his “Social Contract Theory (SCT) and the Search for a Leviathan”), “where life is hard, brutish, nasty and short”. A situation that rational people do not desire, thus they come together setting aside selfishness, greed and destructive individualism to create a society habitable for all to grow, develop and achieve full potentials.

Thomas Hobbes further argues that man is not exactly an obedient being, but often obeys because he fears the repercussions of disobedience. Thus for any society to progress beyond the state of nature, there must be no regime of impunity which lets violators and law breakers go free. Unpunished crime attracts more crimes either by the same violators or by others who are encouraged by the lack of punitive measures. Punishment is needed to serve as deterrence to other would be delinquents and perpetual offenders, while dangerous individuals and other societal menaces have to be incarcerated in order to protect the larger society. A few should not be allowed to intimidate, oppress and dominate others.

There is the need for an appropriate social contract that will be beneficial to all stakeholders.

Social contract in this context can be defined as a broad class of theories that try to explain the ways in which people form states to maintain social order. The notion of the social contract implies that the people give up sovereignty to a government or other authority in order to receive or maintain social order through the rule of law. It can also be thought of as an agreement by the governed on a set of rules by which they are governed.

Social contract theory formed a central pillar in the historically important notion that legitimate state authority must be derived from the consent of the governed.

What obtains at present in Nigeria is a distorted social contract whereby the most significant threat ironically to the life of the individual emanates from within rather without. The supposed custodian of security The Leviathan/ The State (The Government) is the most significant threat to the security and well being of the Nigerian Society. The very institution (The Government) that should be protecting and safeguarding the life of individuals either directly (through state or state sponsored violence) or indirectly (through criminal and willful negligence) allows harm come the way of its own citizens.

The Responsibility to Protect
The writer suggests that the Nigerian Society (the State and its people), adopt, adapt and localize the core of the principle of “The Responsibility to Protect” as a guideline to addressing this anomaly and effectively managing and resolving the conflicts agitating the society.

“The Responsibility to Protect” is a norm or set of principles based on the idea that sovereignty is not a privilege, but a responsibility. “The Responsibility to Protect” focuses on preventing and halting four crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.

The responsibility to protect has two basic principles:

• State sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself.

• Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect.

Furthermore, it consists of three elements and embraces three specific responsibilities:

• The responsibility to prevent: to address both the root causes and direct causes of internal conflict and other man-made crises putting populations at risk.

• The responsibility to react: to respond to situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures.

• The responsibility to rebuild: to provide, particularly after a military intervention, full assistance with recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation, addressing the causes of the harm the intervention was designed to halt or avert.

In addition, it has as its priorities:
• Prevention is the single most important dimension of the responsibility to protect, and more commitment and resources must be devoted to it.

• The exercise of the responsibility to both prevent and react should always involve less intrusive and coercive measures being considered before more coercive and intrusive ones are applied.

A Commitment To Prevention
The responsibility to protect implies an accompanying responsibility to prevent. The Nigerian Society should do more to close the gap between rhetorical support for prevention and tangible commitment. Prevention of deadly conflict and other forms of man-made catastrophe is, as with all other aspects of the responsibility to protect, first and foremost the responsibility of sovereign states, and the communities and institutions within them. A firm national commitment to ensuring fair treatment and fair opportunities for all citizens provides a solid basis for conflict prevention. Efforts to ensure accountability and good governance, protect human rights, promote social and economic development and ensure a fair distribution of resources point toward the necessary means.

Early Warning and Analysis
There is a need for more official resources to be devoted to early warning and analysis. State security agencies (most especially the intelligence units) need to show more commitment to their duties and put aside the dereliction of duties that has afflicted them and hindered their performance over the years Preventive action is founded upon and proceeds from accurate prediction. Though there is no universal agreement over the precise causes of deadly conflict, it is common to differentiate between underlying or “root” and precipitating or “direct” causes of armed conflict. There is a growing and widespread recognition that armed conflicts cannot be understood without reference to such “root” causes as poverty, political repression, and uneven distribution of resources. “Every step taken towards reducing poverty and achieving broad-based economic growth is a step toward conflict prevention.”

Addressing the root Cause
The Government must strive to promote human rights, to protect minority rights and to institute political arrangements in which all groups are represented. Ignoring the underlying factors of friction, amounts to addressing the symptoms rather the causes of deadly conflict.

Conflict prevention measures, like other forms of assistance, are always best implemented when based on detailed knowledge and understanding, and maximum possible cooperation between helpers and those helped.

Root cause prevention has many dimensions. It may mean addressing political needs and deficiencies, and this might involve democratic institution and capacity building; constitutional power sharing, power-alternating and redistribution arrangements; confidence building measures between different communities or groups; support for press freedom and the rule of law; the promotion of civil society; and other types of similar initiatives that broadly fit within the human security framework.

Root cause prevention may also mean tackling economic deprivation and the lack of economic opportunities. This might involve development assistance and cooperation to address inequalities in the distribution of resources or opportunities; promotion of economic growth and opportunity; encouraging necessary economic and structural reform; and technical assistance for strengthening regulatory instruments and institutions.

Moreover, root cause prevention is strengthening legal protections and institutions. This might involve supporting efforts to strengthen the rule of law; protecting the integrity and independence of the judiciary; promoting honesty and accountability in law enforcement; enhancing protections for vulnerable groups, especially minorities; and providing support to local institutions and organizations working to advance human rights.

Furthermore, root cause prevention includes embarking upon needed sectoral reforms to the state security apparatus. This might involve enhanced education and training for military forces; reintegration of ex-combatants; strengthening civilian control mechanisms, including budget control; encouraging efforts to ensure that security services are accountable for both their actions and inactions, and operate within the law.

For the effective prevention of conflict, and the related sources of human misery, three essential conditions have to be met. First, there has to be knowledge of the fragility of the situation and the risks associated with it; Early Warning. Second, there has to be comprehensive understanding of the policy measures available that are capable of making a difference; Preventive Mechanism. And third, there has to be, as always, the willingness to apply those measures; Political will.

The UN Charter on human rights affirms that “All men are created equal and naturally endowed by their creator with three inalienable rights; the right to life; the right to freedom and liberty; and the right to the pursuit of happiness”.

When reference is made to pursuing happiness in the context of statehood, it often refers to public happiness that is measurable; which is, indeed, the test and justification of any government. “The greatest happiness of the greatest number at all times”

The French revolution which laid the foundation of modern statehood, places special emphasis the right to life. The Tripartite Motto representing the theme of the revolution had the following concept: Liberté (Freedom & Liberty); Égalite (Egalitarianism & Equality); and Fraternité (Fraternity). This was to form the foundation of modern statehood with particular emphasis on citizens' rights, duties & responsibilities to the State and the State's authority over and obligations to its citizens. This groundwork is expected to bring about unity of purpose, togetherness and sense of duty which is a prerequisite to nation building. For nation building to transpire, the State has a duty to guarantee four freedoms, Freedom from Fear, Freedom from Want, Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association.

A society where these four freedoms cannot be guaranteed is highly susceptible to bedlam and instability.

Furthermore, the youths and other highly susceptible members of the society need to be sensitized and enlightened on why they should reject being used as canon fodders by the elites who prey on their naivety. The same elites who safely tuck their own families away from danger while inciting and inducing these misguided members of society to violence. Nicolo Machiavelli the 16th century Florence (Italy) Politician and Writer warns that “Put your trust not in Princes and Generals because they would shed your blood from a safe distance while claiming expediency,”

In addition, more has to be done in safeguarding human life. As it stands today the State has a legal obligation to make sure that one's right to life is not arbitrarily taken away, however, the State only has a moral and not a legal obligation to feed the hungry or prevent their death from starvation. Too many street children and destitute roam the streets without any form of assistance or protection from the state or society. The society needs to go back to times of old when the community was the source of strength and not the extreme individualistic approach to life that obtains at present. The obligation of the Society should shift from a negative definition and approach to the issue of right to life to a more positive approach to life which should be more than just preventing an individual's life from being arbitrarily taken away to actually helping nurture the individuals life.

The society must come to the realization that the opposite of good is not evil but indifference. Indifference to the plight of others has brought the society to this precarious juncture. What is often not acknowledged is that there is very little power in individualism but potent strength in the community.

A German critic of Adolf Hitler and survivor of one of the concentration camps commented after the war that indifference and apathy from the populace was the greatest undoing of the German people and the salient strength of Hitler and his Nazis. He said “when the Nazis came for the Jews and the Slavs, I closed the door to my house and pretended not to know; when they came for the invalids and mentally challenged, I just looked on; then the communist and the socialists were all taken away and yet again I feigned ignorance of happenings around me, consequently when it was my turn to be taken away I had no one to speak up for me or turn to for help since they had all being taken away while I pretended not to know.”

The Holy books of both Christians and Muslims the Bible and Quran insistently state that man is God's Viceroy on earth, the custodian of His creation, thus man would have to account for his stewardship to God some day.

The labour of Our Heroes past shall never be in vain. Amin.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Akinniyi Abioye Oyewusi and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Akinniyi Abioye Oyewusi