Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

By Patrick Thornberry | Go to book overview

10

The African Charter on Human and
Peoples' Rights; African perspectives
on indigenous peoples

The strictures of Special Rapporteur Alfonso Martinez concerning the concept of indigenous peoples in Africa and Asia will be recalled. His comments flag up the possibility that indigenousness raises difficult questions for African States, most of which are relatively recent beneficiaries of the decolonisation movement, and governed by indigenous political élites. African States, according to one author, represent a mixture of pre-colonial and Western structures. 1 In the former - political societies rather than States - the emphasis has supposedly been on community; a feature which produces the claim that `The vast majority of the people still exhibit unflinching loyalty to an organic whole, be it a family, a clan, a lineage or an ethnic group. They therefore still think largely in terms of collective rights'. 2 On the other hand, the structures imposed by colonialism tended to ignore existing social and political patterns, and impose the pattern of the incomers. Allowing for the element of reductionism in such strongly drawn contrasts, the proposition that the `crisis of the [African] State' 3 arises from a collision between community-based systems of political and social organisation and the more impersonal structures of the `modern' Western-derived State receives wide support in the literature. 4

____________________
1
R. Murray, The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and International Law (Oxford and Portland, Oregon, 2000), ch. 3.
2
O. Ojo, `Understanding human rights in Africa', in J. Berting (ed.), Human Rights in a Pluralist World; Individuals and Collectivities, p. 120 - cited in Murray, African Commission, p. 35.
3
Y. Ghai, `Constitutions and governance in Africa: a prolegomenon', in S. Adelman and A. Paliwala (eds.), Law and Crisis in the Third World (London, Zell Publishers, 1993), pp. 51-75.
4
Many citations in Murray, African Commission, ch. 3.

-244-

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