Human Rights in Africa ANTH 313

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1 Human Rights in Africa ANTH 313

2 International human rights norms should become part of legal culture of any given society To do so, they must strike responsive chords in general human public consciousness. Paper argues that universality & specificity are not necessarily intrinsically oppositional forces, nor are they mutually exclusive, either conceptually or practically.

3 A number of prerequisite points must be made: 1. ethical relativism is an untenable position 2. relativism does not preclude cultural context, but anthropology has generally has overlooked this fact 3. a human rights discourse containing universal principles which are culturally meaningful depends on inter- and intra-cultural dialogues 4. Topic of women's human rights in Africa encapsulates many of contentious issues around international human rights, prominently among them, the relationship between individual and society.

4 Ethical relativism is an extreme & highly conservative position. Refers to understanding that ethical principles emerge within specific cultural contexts, shifting from culture to culture. Extra-cultural standards of moral judgments are not possible Moral judgments can only be determined through standards of a culture's norms. View is unacceptable since it relies on a notion of culture anthropologists have rejected over past few decades, namely, that culture is a bounded and internally coherent whole.

5 Anthropology's revised notions of culture concept render ethical relativism an incoherent perspective. Now commonplace to refer to culture as: Unbounded Heterogeneous Fluid Shifting Emergent Contradictory Processual In this alternative view of culture, moral values & society's norms emerge out of a conglomeration of interwoven ideas obtained through a complex array of processes which include various forms of historical and/or contemporary contact with "outsiders."

6 While women and men have more formal rights in post-colonial Africa, the western model has essentially deprived women of the political influence they had in many indigenous societies. The women's human rights movement now faces challenge of carrying "women's voices, interests, and concerns into mainstream human rights law-making arena so that the diversity of women's experiences in different cultures is introduced into international human rights law establishing new forms of contact zones which eschew coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict. It is through this process that anthropologists can be especially valuable participants, employing their strengths in collecting and analyzing ethnographies which establish avenues to disseminate the voices of the women with whom they collaborate.

7 WHY? Arenas of women's human rights & human rights in Africa specifically, are domains which emphasize extremes of relativist & universalist positions. Perspectives of each surface in sociocultural & philosophical questions about relationship of individual to society in Africa. African Charter on Human & Peoples' Rights, adopted in 1986, underscores the tension between individual human rights and group or peoples' rights. In relativist view, sanctity of the extended family in Africa undermines legitimacy of individual rights, viewed as a western import.

8 Although realm of family in Africa is central to any discussion of women's human rights, this focus should not distract from other sources of abuse against women which occur outside the local cultural context. To place a spotlight on family as exclusive source of discrimination against women puts disproportionate blame on this particular cultural domain, to the exclusion of other violations of women's integrity. International practices such as structural adjustment programs (SAPs) of World Bank and IMF, which in many ways contribute to suspicion toward international human rights agendas, may themselves constitute violations of personal economic rights. SAPs have led to depreciation of local currencies & "rationalization of industry, including privatization of public enterprises & reduction of government expenditure on social services, resulting in spiraling inflation and severely restricted access to education and health facilities. In their wake, SAPs have contributed to devaluation of women's work. Nurturing cultural institutions are thus threatened through international financial arrangements.

9 Other human rights instruments, such as Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993, privileges an independent, free woman. Women's human rights activists emphasize idea of personal autonomy, precisely as a means of addressing oppression of individual women within family unit where women's human rights are frequently violated through domestic violence, restrictions on access to resources, and in matters of marriage, divorce, & property rights. The human rights of women epitomize questions about relationship of individual to the group. But those in support of universal precepts argue that individual rights must always be applied in a social milieu.

10 As African women activists argue, participation of African women in international women's rights movement emphasizes that affronts women suffer to their human dignity cannot only be solved through local institutions. This being the case, debate over relativity or universality of human rights is one which actually distorts problem, rather than illuminating condition of women. Harm in maintaining this bipolar debate is that it perpetuates "international hierarchies of power that contribute to the ongoing polarization of the West and the Third World and [limit]... the definition and scope of struggles perceived to fall within the purview of women's human rights.

11 National Institutions reflect burgeoning awareness of limitations to relativism and necessity of developing a truly universal human rights discourse, one which recognizes that women's rights are indeed human rights, and that African women's rights need to recognize that African women exist as "singular-universals" as do we all. Naimi Hasci states that: The issue here is not about maintaining relativism as a dichotomy to universalism, but about integrating, adapting and building on what is universally human and gendersensitive about a society's cultural and juridical heritage so that it can be genuinely sustained locally, nationally and internationally.

12 Paul Magnarella Achieving Human Rights in Africa What are the causes of extensive human rights abuses in Africa? OAU report attributed Africa's poor human rights record mainly to racism, postcolonialism, poverty, ignorance, disease, religious intolerance, internal conflicts, debt, bad management, corruption, the monopoly of power, the lack of judicial and press autonomy, and border conflicts

13 Paul Magnarella Achieving Human Rights in Africa State creation in Africa differed markedly from European experience. Western liberal conception of individual-state relationships does not easily apply to Africa. European imperialists imposed state structure on collections of ethno-political communities that historically lacked intercommunal coherence. This forced communities that lived independently of each other to live together in newly-created colonial state. Most of these new citizens lacked any nationalistic bond to colonial state. Today, only a few African states bear any territorial resemblance to political communities that existed prior to European colonialism. Resulting disconnect between Africans and modern African state has created a crisis of cultural, social, and political identity.

14 Paul Magnarella Achieving Human Rights in Africa Historically, diverse ethnic populations with a tradition of mutual animosity have not found common citizenship in a single state a sufficient basis for social harmony. On the contrary, the state form has simply become new arena for interethnic political & economic battles.

15 Paul Magnarella Achieving Human Rights in Africa In cases of intrastate, interethnic strife involving cultural populations who are numerically dominant in different regions of the country, at least two political paradigms or structural alternatives to the pluralistic state are possible. One structural solution involves replacing the state with autonomous, ethnic cantons that can opt for confederation on the Swiss model. Another possibility is creation of small independent ethnic states whose leaders may opt for some form of interstate integration on the European Union model. Both the Swiss cantons and the states comprising the European Union opted for forms of legal integration to achieve anticipated political and economic benefits.

16 Paul Magnarella Achieving Human Rights in Africa Created under the auspices of the OAU, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights entered into force in African Charter both resembles and departs from the other regional conventions. Charter articles 3-17 list a fairly typical array of individual rights. These individual rights are followed by a catalog of peoples' rights. Additionally, the Charter lists obligations that states incur. Articles 27 to 29 spell out duties that an individual incurs "towards his family and society, the State and other legally recognized communities and the international community. Section spelling out a citizen's duties to the state distinguishes the African Charter from other regional human rights conventions and has earned it serious criticism.

17 Paul Magnarella Achieving Human Rights in Africa In 1987, the OAU created the African Human Rights Commission, in accordance with Charter Article 30, to promote human rights and to monitor compliance by African States with their obligations under the charter. Each state that is party to Charter is obligated to cooperate with commission and submit report every two years in which state explains measures it has taken and needs to take to ensure its citizens rights and freedoms guaranteed by the charter. Reality has been quite different.

18 Paul Magnarella Achieving Human Rights in Africa African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. Celebrating the African Charter at 30: A Guide to the African Human Rights System

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