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African Human Rights Law Journal

On-line version ISSN 1996-2096
Print version ISSN 1609-073X

Afr. hum. rights law j. vol.11 n.2 Pretoria  2011


Have the norms and jurisprudence of the African human rights system been pro-poor?



Obiora OkaforI; Basil UgochukwuII

IProfessor of International Law, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto, Canada; Member of the United Nations Human Rights Council Advisory Committee
IILegal Process Instructor and PhD Candidate, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto, Canada




Drawing upon the important insight of critical human rights scholars that 'pro-human rights' are not necessarily 'pro-poor', this article mainly utilises Baxi's germinal thesis on the emergence of a trade-related market-friendly human rights (TREMF) paradigm (that is slowly but surely displacing what he refers to as the UDHR paradigm, much to the advantage of global capital and the rich/powerful/elite, and greatly to the disadvantage of the poor) in assessing the extent to which the norms and jurisprudence of the African human rights system have been pro-poor. After demarcating its scope, outlining its limitations and offering an explanation of the conception of poverty that animates its use of the terms 'the poor' and 'pro-poor', the article analyses the relevant norms and jurisprudence of the African system in the context of the conceptual framework of the study, and concludes that these norms and jurisprudence have tended to be animated by an anti-TREMF (and pro-UDHR paradigm) sensibility, ethic and politics, and have for this and other reasons been more or less pro-poor in orientation. While these findings show that the TREMF paradigm has not completely eaten away at the pro-poorness of the textual affirmations of human rights that guide and have been produced by such international human rights systems, and such texts are important enough in 'loosely' framing and shaping human rights that their character must be carefully studied, it must still be cautioned that such textual affirmations are not self-executing. They must be implemented in the concrete sense by governments, peoples, corporations, institutions and other agents for them to really matter. It should therefore be kept in mind that it is at this level, the level of the 'living' human rights law (that is, the law as it is actually experienced by ordinary people) that the TREMF paradigm's ultimate impact is to be observed. This suggests that the TREMF paradigm may have exerted more influence in the living world than this study (focused as it largely is on 'the text') might suggest.



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* LLB, LLM (Nigeria), LLM (British Columbia), PhD (British Columbia);
** LLB (Abia State), LLM (Central European, Budapest);
1 See U Baxi The future of human rights (2002) 6;         [ Links ] B Rajagopal 'Pro-human rights but anti-poor? A critical evaluation of the Indian Supreme Court from a social movement perspective' (2007) 8 Human Rights Review 157 158.         [ Links ] See also See OC Okafor 'Attainments, eclipses and disciplinary renewal in international human rights law: A critical overview' in D Armstrong (ed) Routledge handbook of international law (2009) 303.         [ Links ]
2 'Egypt revolution 2011: A complete guide to the unrest' Huffington Post (accessed 18 May 2011);         [ Links ] 'European neo-Nazi's move to the US for free speech' (accessed 27 June 2011).         [ Links ]
3 See Rajagopal (n 1 above).
4 See SR Osmani 'Poverty and human rights: Building on the capability approach' (2005) 6 journal of Human Development 206.         [ Links ]
5 T Pogge 'Recognised and violated by international law: The human rights of the global poor' (2005) 18 Leiden journal of International Law 717 718.         [ Links ]
6 As above.
7 See Osmani (n 4 above).
8 W van Genugten & C Perez-Bustillo (eds) The poverty of rights: Human rights and the eradication of poverty (2001).         [ Links ]
9 T Pogge World poverty and human rights (2002).         [ Links ]
10 PI Ozo-Eson 'Law, women and health in Nigeria' (2008) 9 journal of International Women's Studies 285.         [ Links ]
11 I Shivji 'Constructing a new rights regime: Promises, problems and prospects' (1999) 8 Social and Legal Studies 253 257-261.         [ Links ]
12 As above
13 H Steiner et al International human rights in context: Law, politics, and morals (2007) 263.         [ Links ]
14 See Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (accessed 27 June 2011).         [ Links ]
15 S Mathews 'Discoursive alibis: Human rights, Millennium Development Goals and poverty reduction strategy papers' (2007) 50 Development 76 78-79.         [ Links ]
16 As above; Baxi (n 1 above) 132-145.
17 As above.
18 Baxi (n 1 above).
19 Baxi (n 1 above) 132.
20 As above.
21 Baxi (n 1 above) 141.
22 Baxi (n 1 above) 139.
23 R Howard 'The full-belly thesis: Should economic rights take priority over civil and political rights? Evidence from sub-Saharan Africa' (1983) 5 Human Rights Quarterly 467 468.         [ Links ]
24 As above.
25 RT Nhlapo 'International protection of human rights and the family: African variations on a common theme' (1989) 3 International journal of the Family 1 2.         [ Links ]
26 BO Okere 'The protection of human rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights: A comparative analysis with the European and American systems' (1984) 6 Human Rights Quarterly 141 145,         [ Links ] quoting the Committee of Experts that drafted the Charter that they worked on the understanding that the 'African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights should reflect the African conception of human rights' and 'should take as a pattern the African philosophy of law and meet the needs of Africa'.
27 As above.
28 DM Chirwa 'Toward revitalising economic, social, and cultural rights in Africa: Social and Economic Rights Action Centre and the Centre for Economic and Social Rights v Nigeria' (2002) 10 Human Rights Brief 14;         [ Links ] JC Nwobike 'The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the demystification of second and third generation rights under the African Charter: Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC) and the Centre for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) v Nigeria' (2005) 1 African journal of Legal Studies 129 140.         [ Links ]
29 N Udombana 'Between promise and performance: Revisiting states' obligations under the African Human Rights Charter' (2004) 40 Stanford journal of International Law 105 112-118.         [ Links ]
30 Address of President Leopold Senghor to the Dakar Meeting of Experts Preparing the Draft African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, OAU Doc CAB/LEG/67/X, reprinted in P Kunig et al (eds) Regional protection of human rights by international law: The emerging African system (1985). Senghor appeared to conflate 'rights' with "needs"'. Even though it is clear in theoretical terms, they do not mean one and the same thing. See eg J Waldron 'The role of rights in practical reasoning: "Rights" versus "needs"' (2000) 4 journal of Ethics 115;         [ Links ] M Tushnet 'An essay on rights' (1984) 62 Texas Law Review 1363         [ Links ]
31 N Udombana 'Articulating the right to democratic governance in Africa' (2003) 24 Michigan journal of International Law 1209 1224-1225 (our emphasis).         [ Links ]
32 CA Odinkalu 'Analysis of paralysis or paralysis by analysis? Implementing economic, social and cultural rights under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights' (2001) 23 Human Rights Quarterly 327 337.         [ Links ]
33 See Chirwa (n 28 above); F Coomans 'The Ogoni case before the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights' (2003) 52 International and Comparative Law Quarterly 749 751.         [ Links ]
34 Steiner et al (n 13 above) 505.
35 Art 17.
36 See generally S Chant Gender, generation and poverty: Exploring the 'feminisation of poverty' in Africa, Asia and Latin America (2007);         [ Links ] M Buvinic 'Women in poverty: A new global underclass' (1997) 108 Foreign Policy 38.         [ Links ]
37 Art 14.
38 Baxi (n 1 above) 136.
39 OC Okafor 'Re-conceiving Third World legitimate governance struggles in our time: Emergent imperatives for rights activism' (2000) 2 Buffalo Human Rights Law Review 1.         [ Links ]
40 See OC Okafor '"Righting" the right to development: A socio-legal analysis of article 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights' in S Marks (ed) Implementing the right to development: The role of international law (2008) 52.         [ Links ]
41 As above.
42 As above.
43 CU Gwam 'Toxic waste dumping and the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in Africa' (2008) 15 African Yearbook of International Law 237.         [ Links ]
44 ACHPR/Res.53 (XXIX) 01 (accessed 8 June 2011).
45 Gwam (n 43 above). See also T Kohi et al 'HIV and AIDS stigma violates human rights in five African countries' (2006) 13 Nursing Ethics 404.
46 ACHPR/Res.66 (XXXV) 04 (accessed 8 June 2011).
47 ACHPR /Res.73(XXXVI)04 (accessed 8 June 2011).
48 This Protocol includes such rights as those relating to economic and social welfare (art 13); health and reproductive rights (art 14): the right to food security (art 15); the right to adequate housing (art 16); the right to a healthy and sustainable environment (art 18); the right to sustainable development (art 19); rights of widows (art 20); the right of inheritance (art 21); special protection of elderly women (art 22); and special protection of women with disabilities (art 23).
49 The African Children's Charter reinforced some general provisions of the main Charter by directing them specifically to the concerns of the African child. It protects the right to education (art 11); the rights of handicapped children (art 13); the right of the child to health and health services (art 14); and the prohibition of child labour (art 15). For an analysis of the African Children's Charter, see D Chirwa 'The merits and demerits of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child' (2002) 10 International journal of Children's Rights 157.
50 The Convention defines a refugee as 'every person who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country, or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it'. Refugees often become poor in their new surroundings. Space does not allow us to delve into a detailed consideration of the ways in which these instruments address the claims of the poor in Africa. Suffice it to note, though, that their general ethic appears to be pro-poor.
51 Arts 47-54.
52 Arts 55-59.
53 Nwobike (n 28 above) 130.
54 (2000) AHRLR 74 (ACHPR 1995).
55 (20 00) AHRLR 18 (ACHPR 1997).
56 (2008) AHRLR 43 (ACHPR 2008).
57 (2004) AHRLR 57 (ACHPR 2004).
58 (2000) AHRLR 149 (ACHPR 2000).
59 Para 122.
60 (2003) AHRLR 96 (ACHPR 2003).
61 Para 84.
62 (2004) AHRLR 78 (ACHPR 2004).
63 (2008) AHRLR 62 (ACHPR 2008).
64 (2009) AHRLR 193 (ACHPR 2009).
65 (2004) AHRLR 105 (ACHPR 2004).
66 (2004) AHRLR 43 (ACHPR 2004).
67 (2009) AHRLR 9 (ACHPR 2009).
68 Gunme (n 67 above) para 206.
69 Gunme (n 67 above).
70 (2001) AHRLR 60 (ACHPR 2001).
71 (2009) AHRLR 75 (ACHPR 2009).
72 Endorois case (n 71 above) para 298.
73 Endorois case (n 71 above) (Commission's emphasis).
74 Commission's emphasis.
75 Endorois case (n 71 above) para 277.
76 Endorois case (n 71 above).

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