- Les Droits de l’Homme en Afrique, and: La Charte Africaine des Droits de l’homme et des Peuples—une Approche Juridique des Droits de l’homme Entre Tradition et Modernité
The adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights by the Organization of African Unity in 1981, more than twenty years after the inception of the two International Covenants and the American Convention on Human Rights, represented not only an acknowledgment by African states that human rights had become an inescapable element of the international landscape, but also an effort to adapt international human rights to the specificities of the African context. Now, with the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the Charter approaching fast, there is still no comprehensive monograph in English that fully analyzes the content and implications of this most significant human rights instrument. 1 However, two recent books in French, written by Kéba Mbaye and Fatsah Ouguergouz, do provide us with systematic, if very different, analyses of the Charter.
If there ever was a designated authority to write on the African Charter, it would have to be Kéba Mbaye. A former Justice of the Senegal Supreme Court, Vice-President of the International Court of Justice, President of the UN Human Rights Commission and of the International Commission of Jurists, Mbaye was the author of the initial draft of the African Charter. As its title suggests, Les Droits de l’homme en Afrique is not a study limited to the African Charter, but rather examines the broader question of human rights in Africa generally. Thus, the book is divided into two parts: the first dealing with more universal approaches to human rights in Africa, the second with the African Charter itself.
Mbaye begins with a broad commentary deconstructing both notions of Africa as a cultural context and of universal human rights. Is it possible, he asks, to lump together all of Africa as one sociopolitical entity in the context of international human rights? He answers in the affirmative, finding a common, if undefined, body of norms governing human relations across Africa (p. 23). Turning next to international human rights, the author underlines the necessary nexus between individual and [End Page 807] collective rights, emphasizing the individual dimension of group and peoples’ rights and the collective dimension of individual rights. The universality of human rights is affirmed and presented as consistent with diversity in the conception, formulation, and enforcement of these rights (p. 35). Thus, to the diversity of contexts corresponds a malleability of concepts, allowing for both a global treatment of human rights in Africa and its fractioning at a localized level within the continent.
Chapter two contains a presentation of general and specialized human rights instruments, as well as enforcement mechanisms. This is more in the nature of a general introduction to these elements, designed for those not fully familiar with human rights law. Some readers will undoubtedly regret the lack of a more contextualized presentation underlining the specific problems of applying these universal norms to Africa.
The last chapter of part I examines first the impact of the Lomé Conventions, and specifically the importance given to human rights in the 1989 Lomé IV Convention (pp. 122–23). In that instrument, human rights are presented as a necessary part of, and condition to, development. This is an area of particular interest to Mbaye, who is often referred to as the “father of the right to development” in recognition of his seminal work in the field. The chapter closes with a discussion of the Islamic conception of human rights, which the author presents as fully consistent with international standards (pp. 126–34). In an era of challenges to the universality of human rights, coming in part from Islamic fundamentalists, the author should at least mention...