The development of Human Rights in the Continent can be traced way back to its political history. This is as a result of the fact that the struggle for independence in the continent was deeply rooted in the principles of Human Rights. African freedom fighters capitalized on the right to self-determination, which recognized the need for all peoples to be able to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and brought this aspect to the forefront of their fight against colonialism.
One would have thought that the injustices suffered by the continent in the hands of the colonial masters would have taught Africa a lesson on how to better govern their colonies. Paradoxically, government leaders are depriving their citizens of the very rights they fought so hard for. It may seem unbelievable that years after Independence, the continent is characterized by a series of gross Human Rights violations. It is now commonplace for citizens to take to the streets to demand respect of certain rights, this has been the case in countries like Cameroon, the DRC, Gabon, the Gambia, Kenya, Niger and, Togo.
Africa develops Human Rights instruments for the continent
The United Nations Charter with six provisions promoting respect for human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms are some of the three instruments contributing to the favorable Human Right environment in the world.
Despite the availability of these instruments, Africa leaders felt there was a need to develop an instrument that correlates with its tradition, values and historical development. This led to the creation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the latter inauguration of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights which have the duty to protect and promote peoples’ rights. The charter guarantees a series of fundamental rights, including the rights to equal protection of the law, the right to life and security, to due process, education, own property, work under equitable and satisfactory conditions, health, and to assemble with others. It equally included the rights to freedom of expression, movement, religion, political participation, and self-determination.
Unfortunately, these instruments have recorded considerable failures in preventing crucial Human Rights issues in the continent, including the gross Human Rights violations such as the Rwandan genocide, and violations of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo. With the ratification of the African Charter by several AU member states, the majority of people in Africa are still deprived of their rights. The level of impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses has made genuine respect for human rights one of the greatest challenges facing the continent.
Human Rights Violations still on the rise in the continent
South Africa’s record on respect for human rights and the rule of law remained very low in 2018 with a recorded increase in violence and other forms of abuse. According to the 2017/2018 report published by Amnesty International, Africa’s human rights landscape during this period was characterized by the government’s intolerance to peaceful protests and the complete disregard for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The report also indicated that most of these violations were fueled by the political stalemate in most countries as well as the failure to address long-standing conflicts by regional and international bodies.
Another worrying aspect is that governments have not only failed to respect human rights laws, but are introducing new and repressive laws which in most cases are not in conformity with the principles of Human Rights and are completely against the provisions of the African Charter.
In Angola and Ivory Coast, for instance, parliament adopted bills with provisions restricting the freedom of expression. In sub-Saharan Africa, Amnesty International equally reported that the level of state-sponsored intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders was on the rise. In countries like Sudan and South Sudan, there was the massive arrest of civil society activists and human rights defenders.
Furthermore, African leaders have not failed to use military might to clampdown peaceful protests. Reports indicated that people were denied the right to peaceful protest in over 20 countries on the continent. In countries like Angola, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Sudan, Togo, the government used its authority to impose unlawful bans on peaceful protests. The amnesty’s report noted that there were severe mass arrests of peaceful protesters in Togo, DRC, and Uganda with the excessive use of force. Cameroon has in the past 3 years witnessed its worst human rights violations since the beginning of the Anglophone Crisis in 2017. International human rights bodies decried the excessive killing of civilians, arbitrary arrests and burning of houses by the government and other armed groups.
Efforts made to promote Human Rights in the continent
Even though Human Rights in Africa are still in a sorry state, there have been national and international efforts to ameliorate the situation. The institution of mechanisms such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Covenants at the international level as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights at the regional level is one of the major attempts geared at promoting and protecting Human Rights.
Apart from these mechanisms, Africa took another important step in advocating for Human rights when the African Court on Human and People’s Rights was officially established by the African Union. The inauguration of the court falls in line with efforts by the AU to end impunity for human rights violators. These organizations have been making great efforts to help the people of Africa have basic human rights.
At the country level, Uganda established The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) under the 1995 constitution to monitor and advance human rights in the country. This body has so far been appraised for its effort in improving the Human rights situation of the country. In Ethiopia, the government released thousands of protesters in 2018 who had been in prison since 2011 on charges of terrorism. The human rights situation became even better after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed lifted bans on opposition parties and promised to introduce reforms for all repressive laws in the country. The 2019 report by the Fund for Peace, FFP, noted that Ethiopia has witnessed a remarkable change after being ranked as one of the worst countries in 2017.
It can also be noted that some countries have made significant reforms in a bid to promote human rights. For instance, Gambia annulled its initial decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) and released several political prisoners. Also, Burkina Faso included provisions in its draft Constitution aimed at strengthening human rights protection in the country.
However, despite the efforts made by the government and other international bodies, the fight and protection of basic Human rights in the continent and beyond is being championed by individuals and civil society activists. At the 2020 edition of the Geneva Summit on Human Rights and Democracies, these activists who have been subjected to arrest by the government called on individuals to never leave their rights at the mercy of the government. While decrying the bad state of human rights in their various countries, they noted that the citizens have to stand up and defend their rights.
Generally, the progress made by Africa as far as human rights are concerned is getting better by the day. Many countries have adopted democratic principles and accorded the people their civil rights to vote, but these governments must also create constitutional and legal administrations that recognize and encourages the growth of a vibrant and open civil society with strong democratic principles, respect for public opinion freedom of the press. The Association for Free Research and International Cooperation, AFRIC, in its 2020 report, dubbed Africa-2040 Vision for the future, advocated for the institution of governance mechanisms that ensure change through democracy and transparency, which are core human rights factors. The report produced by AFRIC also advocated for a governance structure which brings the decision-making process closer to the people.
Finally, for the fight for the respect for human rights to be more effective, researchers have advanced the need for human rights groups and organizations to familiarize themselves and engage with the national and sub-regional human rights instruments such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which are vital for the implementation and enforcement of Human rights in Africa.
Article from AFRIC Editorial
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