Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

OAU-Watch Dog With Rubber Teeth (Part 1)

Following recent attempts and failures of African countries over the Polisario issue, the Chad conflict which has assumed international dimensions and a host of political problems of which the OAU has been proved to be completely impotent. Mark Kwasi Gyebi Korang examines the organisation's charter and concludes that its shortcomings make it an important but inefficient machinery for problem-solving.

There is no doubt that Africa is a continent with multiple problems and the question of Human Rights is certainly one of them. Names like Idi Amin and Bokassa readily spring up to mind when one mentions the question of Human Rights in Africa and I suppose it is not an understatement to suggest that if there is any continent which has suffered endless violation of Human Rights, it is probably the continent of Africa.

The formation of the organisation of African Unity in my opinion is the highest "watermark" in the history and the struggle of the people of Africa. The aims of the organisation were clearly defined in it's charter adopted in 1963. To those who had foresight and Africa at heart and who were genuinely committed to the African course, the birth of the OAU was the signal for the total emancipation of the people of that continent from all sorts of oppression and domination. The idea, of course, was not just to rob Peter to pay Paul; i.e. free the people from colonial domination only to subject them to tyrannical rule and coercion. A quick glance at Articles 11 & 111 of the OAU Charter of 1963 will throw more light on this point.

Article 11, for instance, set out "to promote the Unity and Solidarity of African States to eradicate all forms of colonialism from Africa and to promote international co-operation having due regard to the charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is worth mentioning that it was the first time the constitutional instrument of an international organisation made a direct reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 111 underlines what then was and still is the major task of the organisation i.e., absolute dedication to the emancipation of the African territories which are still dependent or under foreign domination.

Having specifically mentioned Human Rights in the Charter that brought the organisation into being and avowing to uphold the UNO's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ball was then in the court of our leaders to take measures that will ensure the rights of the inhabitants of the continent.

From 1963 to 1980, nothing positive was done on this all important question of Human Rights. Meanwhile between this period there had been endless violation of human rights Many regimes have come to pass in various parts of the continent some of whose only landmarks are unpardonable destruction of human lives.

If we consider the fact that Ghana today three innocent Judges and a retired Army Officer could be abducted and killed in cold blood then the question of Human Rights is as important today as it was yesterday There was no doubt that his cruc question of Human Rights in Africa was long overdue.


In 1981 however, the OAU introduced the African Charter on "Human and Peoples Rights". Needless to say that the OAU has taken a new dimension of adopting a different definition. The venomous critics who are always waiting in the wing to crush the OAU whenever there is a chance are dissecting the new definition to see how appropriate it is and what are the flaws if any. Some, of the questions being asked are:

We know of Human Rights but what is people's rights?" That 'human rights' is a universal concept - if that presumption is correct, what was the need for the OAU to adopt a new definition? What is abundantly clear is that this new definition cannot easily be dismissed without much debate. Firstly, it is not in contravention with the Universal Declaration of Human Right. All they have done is to stretch it a big to cover certain problems which appertains to Africa. Thus, the argument that since the OAU is a subscriber to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it should have adhered strictly to the UN definition so as to confirm the belief that "Human Rights" is a universal concept, to my mind, is not a strong point.

I must point out that, Article 52 of the UN Charter states inter alia that "nothing in the present charter precludes the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action provided that such arrangements or agencies and their activities are consistent with the purpose and principles of the UN." It is against this background that regional organisations are formed in order to make adaptations to satisfy local conditions On these circumstances without necessarily breaking them.

It is submitted that the concept of human and peoples rights, has been used to denote individuals rights on the one hand as well as the collective rights of people within a state on the other. There are rights which the individual can claim for him/herself eg. the right to vote. Conversely, there are rights which can only be claimed collectively by people within a territory, such as the right to self determination.

Thus, whilst giant nations of Europe and America may take "peoples rights" for granted, in Africa it is the first and foremost right to consider. Before a state can talk about human rights in the sense of individual rights, that state must first of all be free from external control or colonial domination.

Thus considering the peculiar history of Africa which is punctuated with all forms of colonial rule and imperialism one can appreciate why the African draftsmen thought peoples' rights comes over and above everything else. Personally, I do not find the terminology "Peoples Rights" out of place; neither is it in contravention with any existing International Law. In fact, it is in conformity with the New International Economic Order which has in turn given birth to a New International Legal Order.

In view of the special African problem, it would have been inappropriate to draft a charter which circumvents or ignores this all important question. Besides, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not condone the domination of a State, by another. This can be inferred from Article 1 (2) which expressly encourages the right to self-determination.

It is reinforced by Article 1 (1) of the International Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which says that "all people have the right to self-determination and by virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development." In short this is what has been labelled as "Peoples Rights" in the African charter Article 19 of which says, "all people shall be equal...... Nothing shall justify the domination of a people by another".

Next: Part 2

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