Why You Must Know Your Rights!

It is important to have an insight however small into how to handle any legal issue. Because of the lack of knowledge or the limitations in our quest for knowledge, we do things which if we had knowledge, we would not have done. The Good Book says that to the quest of knowledge, there is no end. So, we must all attempt to acquire some knowledge, each day. Without doubt, knowledge is potential power.

A mother in Nakapiripirit, in North Eastern Uganda was furious with rage when she found out that her daughter of seven had been raped by the paternal uncle of fifty six. She couldn’t contain her anger, just like any mother wouldn’t.

In loving her child, she quickly prepared a bath, mixed it with herbs and gave her little girl a scrubbing of her life time. She burnt the clothes and the little girl’s under wear, just so that neither she nor her daughter would ever look at those clothes and remember that ordeal. For those who have daughters or little sisters, you can imagine how disturbing it would be if they were to be victims of rape.

However, much as her actions were emotional and purely filial, they were done in ignorance of the law. And yet, the law is very clear: ignorance of the law is no defence. The right thing she should have done is to take her little girl to the hospital, then report to the police station, hand in those clothes and underwear she burned as evidence, and let the law take its course.

It’s difficult to establish rape by a particular person when the victim has had a bath and their under wear burned. All those actions constitute throwing evidence down into a bottomless pit.

Another time, a friend who owns a shop in the city centre in Nairobi, was out of the blue besieged by police men who wanted to search his shop on suspicion that he kept stolen goods in the shop. He of course asked them the basis of their suspicion, the basis they didn’t give, except that they kept insisting that they are police men who have the right to search his shop at any time.

Of course he refused and demanded that they produce a search warrant before they carry out the search. That type of police men usually don’t like people who know their rights because it curbs their corruption tendencies. But what would happen if we all knew  our rights? What if we all knew that before the police search our houses, they must produce a warrant legalizing the search? We would not be having people rotting in prison even when their cases have not been mentioned.

Most recently, a friend was arrested for taking a picture in the city. The topic of criminalizing photography is for another day, but she was lucky to have her press pass in her purse, one which she showed both to the arresting officers and at the police station where she was briefly held.

While at the station, she was convinced that she did not commit any crime. Attempts by some bad cops to extort her were futile because she knew she didn’t commit any crime.

Her knowledge of her rights to take pictures and to carry her press pass along with her, wherever she goes. saved her from the extortion which many people suffer at the hands of corrupt police men.

The power of knowing your rights

When you are aware of your rights, then your rights are protected and respected by anyone who may want to violate those rights. Most African countries and East Africa in particular has had its fair of dictatorial regimes, where gun wielding goons ruled our countries with undue regard to the rule of law. All that has changed, it is in our history. Our governments are established by the people (though this sometimes is a fallacy), and people in government are accountable to the people. We must enjoy the democracy our constitutions provide for, democracy that is founded on the notion of people power; people who are empowered with inherent rights .

If you are ignorant of your rights as a citizen, you rob yourself of the capacity to protect your rights and even to defend them. Whereas it should be incumbent upon everyone to do their personal reading and research about their results, it should also be appreciated that the nature of laws is complicated because of the terminology and legal jargon used in most statutes. So, if every legal practitioner took it upon themselves to break any provision down in simple terms to those around him or her, with time we can have a people who know their rights.

Way forward

As a means of giving back to the community, law firms and other law-related NGOs should simplify the provisions of a given law to the local populace in the areas where they are based. This of course should be done taking into account the literacy levels in the given area. Sometimes, simplification may mean translating the law into the people’s local language.

Government agencies such as the Human Rights Commission, and the like should be vigilant when it comes to the rights of the common man. May be, their success indicators should revolve around their making sure that the public understands their rights, and also, their willingness to help citizens who want to enforce their rights.

It should be the duty of every legal practitioner to educate the people around him or her about their rights, and about simple legal procedures in given circumstances. As custodians of the law and as officers of the court, we must not look on as the justice system suffers from abuse, as the court’s time is being wasted.

So, once in a while, when you have some time, please share it with your friends on social media. If it is too much, The Deuteronomy is here: we shall deliver it to the right audience.

We must educate the public to curb on all the vices that are eating at the fabric of our society: lawlessness, injustice, corruption and ignorance. Knowledge of our rights is everything we need.


This article appears in our newsletter, The Deuteronomy Vol 6, Issue 4 of September 23rd, 2016

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