Magazine article New African

OAU and Human Rights: Taking Its Principle of "Non-Interference in Internal Affairs" Very Seriously, the OAU at First Did Not Concern Itself with Human Rights and Abuses of Power in Individual African States. in This, It Reflected Views Then Widely Held in Africa, Not Only by Those Holding Power, but Also Foreign Donors

Magazine article New African

OAU and Human Rights: Taking Its Principle of "Non-Interference in Internal Affairs" Very Seriously, the OAU at First Did Not Concern Itself with Human Rights and Abuses of Power in Individual African States. in This, It Reflected Views Then Widely Held in Africa, Not Only by Those Holding Power, but Also Foreign Donors

Article excerpt

ONE-PARTY STATES WERE WIDELY believed to be necessary or beneficial in the 70s and 80s; solidarity against the enemies still ruling over millions of Africans under colonial or settler regimes was often considered to be such an overriding concern that misgovernment in independent Africa was secondary--or it was even felt that concern over it was a harmful distraction.

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And, of course, governments felt threatened by any breach of the "non-interference" principle. In those early days, it was the authority of the state that the OAU was anxious to uphold, for example in the Declaration of the Problem of Subversion and Resolution on the Problem of Refugees adopted at the 1965 Accra summit.

The Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa in 1969 defined refugees as people fleeing "external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order"--not explicitly admitting that refugees could flee from the actions of their own African governments.

In practice, however, African states opened their doors to people fleeing from misrule in other African countries, then and later. Africa's record has always been exemplary in that respect; countries like Tanzania and Malawi have at times sheltered hundreds of thousands of refugees.

It is scarcely necessary to add that major outside powers, in their dealings with Africa, showed no concern at that time over human rights and democracy; they were ready to help all sorts of regimes friendly to them to keep power by any means. American aid to President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, French aid to Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic, and Soviet aid to Mengistu Haile Miriam in Ethiopia are examples.

But in time, attitudes were beginning to change, with the adoption of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights at the Nairobi summit of1981. The date of this Charter is significant. It would not be true to say that African countries were pushed into paying more attention to human rights by Western aid donors. In the early 1980s, those donors showed little or no concern over such matters, though Western NGOs such as Amnesty International no doubt had some influence.

Within Africa, however, thoughtful opinion gradually changed from the overriding emphasis on state authority. …

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