The African Human Rights System: Activist Forces and International Institutions

Article excerpt

Obiora Chinedu Okafor. The African Human Rights System: Activist Forces and International Institutions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

xiv + 336 pp. Select Bibliography. Index. $121.00. Cloth. This apdy tided book shows how African structures addressing human rights function and how various domestic activist forces and international institutions together contribute to what may arguably be an improving rights picture for peoples in Africa. The international law theorist Obiora Okafor argues that a "system" - a combination of international law and such entities as the African Charter, the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, the African Court of Human and People's Rights, and the new Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa - has achieved some influence on individual states. A "process of trans-judicial communication . . . [creates] a virtual human rights network between the African System and diese activist forces" (4), meaning civil society actors such as activist lawyers, women's groups, and faith-based groups. In turn, that network can be seen to have a progressive effect on courts, executive branches, and legislatures, an effect that Okafor says results in greater "correspondence" rather than "compliance" by the state.

The book does not attempt a state-centric study of human rights by examining the jurisprudence of domestic courts on the continent. Rather, the author looks at the role of civil society, and how "activist forces" have advanced African human rights, with particular case studies drawn from Nigeria and South Africa. In Nigeria, its dictatorial military regimes notwithstanding activist forces have had "a modest but significant" influence on behalf of human rights. Civil society actors have managed to intervene in several important cases: the prosecution of Zamani Lekwot (the retired general sentenced to death in 1993 with others of the Kataf ethnic group, later pardoned); a suit brought by two NGOs to repeal the restrictive 1993 Newspapers Decree 43; the trade unionist Frank Ovie Kokori v. General Sani Abacha (1995); the 1994 Right to Passport Case in which the Court of Appeals voided the government's seizing without cause of the passport of the head of the Civil Liberties Organization. …