In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Human Rights in Africa: From the Oau to the African Union
  • Mirjam de Bruijn
Rachel Murray . 2004. Human Rights in Africa: From the Oau to the African Union. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 34 pp. $85.00 (cloth).

This book explains the integration of human rights in African politics by analyzing the bureaucracy of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and its successor, the African Union (AU). As with other political institutions, such as the European Union, human rights have only recently become central in their concerns. This book gives a detailed overview of the measures, [End Page 123] bodies, and actions that aim at a potentially better integration of a human-rights perspective in African politics. It situates the sequence of adaptation of these institutions and attitudes concerning human rights in the colonial and postcolonial history of the continent.

The first chapter presents a historical overview of the integration of human-rights organs in the OAU, and later the AU. The preoccupation with human rights as they are defined in international law today was not the primary concern of African states just after independence. Human rights were translated into self-determinacy and racism or apartheid. The influence of international discussions influenced this African discussion from the sidelines and became an integral part of the OAU/AU only in the late twentieth century.

The second chapter examines relations between the OAU/AU and the African Commission on Human and People's Rights (1986). The commission ensured the enforcement of the African Charter of Human and People's Rights, adopted by the OAU in 1981. Only later, in 1998, was the African Court on Human and People's Rights established. However, the setting up of organs does not say anything about power or effectiveness. Funding and a lack of decisiveness are mentioned as problems for these organs in playing their roles. Within the recently restructured AU, where much more attention has been paid, at least rhetorically, to human-rights issues, the position of these organs should be favorable, but it is not yet so.

In these two chapters, the explanation of the failure in enforcing these policies involves cumbersome bureaucracy. Another explanation is historical and focuses on the preoccupation that African states have in coming to terms with their colonial heritage. Human-rights laws and statements are mainly defined by international bodies, but they undeniably rely considerably on developments after the Second World War in Europe and the United States.

The argument of the first two chapters introduces the following chapters. Chapters 3 to 8 discuss various human rights and give an overview of the adaptation of these rights—democracy, conflict, women, children, refugees, and development—within the OAU/AU. They debate the roots of these topics in discussions in the OAU/AU, but the doubts that emerge in each chapter are whether subscription to these principles will go beyond rhetoric. As is stated in the conclusion of the chapter on democracy, "in terms of implementation many of its deadlines are already past or so close that their likelihood of being complied with is minimal" The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) is presented as a new phase in OAU/AU relations with human-rights issues as they are linked to development; however, here again the author concludes that much depends on the practice of the rhetoric that is so easily ventured in these institutions.

It is clear that African politics with regard to human rights is deeply influenced by the establishment of these bodies and their related definitions of rights; however, these are mainly directed by the international discussion in which the universality of human rights is taken for granted. Have African politicians indeed followed the mainstream international debate on [End Page 124] human rights, as is suggested in this book? Who defines what human rights are? and are they universal? By avoiding this discussion, the book misses an important explanation for the often-mentioned lack of enforcement of these rights. It would have gained insights into these issues by presenting case studies, for example, the situation in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Rwanda.

After reading this book, I did not have a complete understanding of...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 123-125
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.