Human Rights in Africa: Enhancing Human Rights through the African Regional Human Rights System

By Agbakwa, Shedrack C. | African Studies Review, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Human Rights in Africa: Enhancing Human Rights through the African Regional Human Rights System


Agbakwa, Shedrack C., African Studies Review


LAW AND HUMAN RIGHTS George William Mugwanya. Human Rights in Africa: Enhancing Human Rights through the African Regional Human Rights System. New York: Transnational Publishers, 2003. xxvi + 504 pp. Appendix. Bibliography. Index. $135.00. Cloth.

Since its adoption in June 1981, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the normative framework of the African human rights system, has generated considerable interest, much of it tinged with pessimism. Certain unique aspects of the charter-including its invocation of African philosophy, its equal emphasis on civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights, and its provisions on duties, as well as what are often perceived as its weak mandates and institutions-have engendered ample doubts about its credibility, efficacy, and relevance to the human rights problems of the continent. Most early commentators, including some otherwise well-meaning scholars, dismissed it as little more than a sham. Subsequent scrutiny of its normative framework, together with the activities and development of its institutional regime, have produced a steady stream of literature. The present book adds to and further enriches the pool of impressive scholarship generated by this most innovative of regional human rights regimes.

In this book, apparently a revised doctoral thesis, Mugwanya undertakes an ambitious examination of the African human rights system and its role in furthering the realization of universal human rights norms in Africa. The book underscores the primacy of an indigenous human rights system, but argues that inherent normative and institutional limitations as well as the all-too-familiar political paralysis of the United Nations have often undercut the ability of the system to adequately address the numerous, widespread human rights challenges facing Africa. This, Mungwanya maintains, leaves Africa to confront its myriad problems on its own. He then provides an admirable and extensive analysis of the African human rights system, including its impact and limitations. Lest the book be accused of being rich in generalities and short on specificities, it draws on case studies from Uganda and South Africa to highlight the impact of both global and African regional systems. Mungwanya champions a more evenhanded African system, one that responds to all human rights violations without deference to a state's political system, whether dictatorship, so-called democracy, or liberal regime.

Extensive in breadth and scope, the book covers a range of important issues. It includes a survey of European, inter-American, and inchoate Middle Eastern systems to demonstrate the importance and comparative advantage of regional over global systems; a discussion of existing human rights problems in Africa that underlines the "necessity of inter-governmental human rights systems in general and the African regional system in particular" (53); an examination of the role, contributions, and limitations of human rights regimes within the U.N., citing all the relevant U.N. Charter organs with direct and indirect responsibility for human rights; an assessment of the human rights role of the OAU (Organization of African Unity) prior to the adoption of the African Charter; an analysis of the African Charter and the protocol establishing the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights; and finally a detailed, if rather general, examination of the work of the monitoring body of the African Charter, the African Commission, and the prospects of the African Court for improving human rights protection in Africa. …

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