Non-governmental organizations have had an unprecedented effect on international human rights in the African system. NGOs have been recognized for their forward thinking ability in improving international human rights in Africa.
NGOs participation in the African Human Rights system has been in two ways. The first is through international and government commissions like the OAU, with some having rights to participate in public meetings. This presents NGOs with the responsibility of promoting human rights by national training programmes, raising profile of commissions in rural areas, disseminating materials, and facilitating and promoting visits to nations.
This research carries out an in depth analysis of the contributions of NGOs in creating changes to human rights in the African system. This is by defining the constitution, progress, and history of NGOs in Africa, and the different contributions made in achieving international human rights. This explores the rise of NGOs in Africa after the Cold War, in post-colonial African states, under the influence of international NGOs and organizations like the United Nations and Amnesty International. It is also evident that the attainment of human rights and freedoms in Africa is the result of the combination of efforts by NGOs with civil and law societies. This is necessary to create a picture of the manner in which NGOs have managed in furthering the cause of Africa's human right issues and the fit of African NGOs in this contribution. The research uses case studies of NGOs like Maendeleo Ya Wanawake in Kenya promoting womens' rights, Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in South Africa promoting the rights of refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers, and Legal Resources Center in Malawi promoting civil rights and liberties, among others. It also analyzes the activities NGOs participate in to provide a link in the protection and promotion of human rights at the national level of African states, using case studies.
Human Rights and Non-Governmental Organizations in Africa
Human rights NGOs fulfill different functions identified by Harry Scoble and Laurie Wiseberg as six key tasks.
These include the gathering of information; dissemination and evaluation; human relief and providing legal aid to families and victims; advocacy; moral praise and condemnation; internationalizing and legitimizing local concerns; building solidarity in the oppressed; and lobbying intergovernmental and national authorities (Welch 2003). Theorists like Welch Jr. (2003) also add roles like standard setting and norm creation, which rule of law and human rights NGOs have had huge success. For example, NGOs have successfully drafted conventions against anti-personnel landmines, torture, and children's rights, by gathering national and global support, and persuading governments to use drafted language in legal treaties. It is evident that African NGOs created awareness on human rights and the rule of law. Often, these NGOs adhere to the Wiseberg-Scoble typology of identifying and documenting violations (Welch 2003 p.315).
Non-governmental organizations have participated in the human rights discourse since 1945 after the adoption of the United Nations Charter. However, it was until the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that international human rights NGOs were created and adopted in the world. The first human rights NGOs were created as a response to the horrors of the atrocities of the World War II. They participated in regional bodies like the Council of Europe, Organization of African Unity, and Organization of American States (2001). NGOs began participating in human rights issues in Africa at the end of the Cold War, following the deterioration of post-colonial nations.
International human right NGOs began paying attention to African states following the proliferation of guns, political and dictatorial confrontation, and ungovernable democracy in the 1960s and 1970s (Welch 2003). At the time, aid to African NGOs mainly came from organizations like the Ford Foundation, and governments of the Scandinavia, Dutch, and German. Human rights promotion and protection was a challenge in African states since the states hid behind the principle of non-interference and national sovereignty (Ouguergouz 2003).
Initially, NGOs were granted observer status by governments and African charters like the Organization of African Unity.
According to Ouguergouz (2003) the OAU contributed to the promotion of human rights in Africa through Article II (1b) which states the purpose of nations is to intensify and coordinate cooperation and efforts in achieving a better life for Africans (p.2). The OAU and the African Human Rights Charter have made major contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights through eradicating apartheid and colonialism as seen in South Africa and Namibia.
They were recognized as national and transnational organizations, which provided African charters and governments with detailed statistics and information gathered on the ground on human rights violations (Smith 2007 p.132). However, these initial efforts were not at first recognized by Africans from their suspicion of NGOs as organizations connected to the history of colonialism and slavery. Africans traditionally placed their trust on ethnic group, but later transferred this trust to nation-state following the introduction of Free states and free rule from colonialism.
The continued search for their rights and freedoms saw many NGOs in Africa follow the model and seek for assistance from international and foreign NGOs. Key international NGOs that contributed in strengthening the fight for human rights and freedoms by NGOs in Africa included Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). This saw African NGOs taking up human rights and freedoms initiatives that focused on particular aspects of political and civil rights abuses that were visible.
In addition, NGOs operating in Africa were allowed by local governments to carry out their activities if they met the definition and qualification of the United Nations, Chapter X of Article 71, and present their views according to resolution 1269, article 9. African governments would not allow an NGO to operate in their states if they thought its activities would expose the bad human rights records of the government. However, the successes in human rights concerns were made by NGOs that received support from law societies in Africa that gave legal aid. Major civil law societies that contributed to the development of African human rights systems by NGOs include the Legal Advice Center of the Public Law Institute of Kenya, and the Legal Aid Committee of the Law Faculty of the University of Dar-es-Salaam.
This allowed the NGOs to gain a concept of human rights and freedoms that would speak of the experiences of oppressed victims they represented. This also provided the NGOs with a founding mandate for their operations on issues of rights and freedoms, and thereby gains an independent representation before governments.
The first NGOs led to the creation of an African human rights system through several activities. They used their position and status with international NGO affiliates like the UN and AI (Bosire & Mutua 2011). This depended on using existing norms, invoking recognized principles, and working within the scope and severity of civil right abuses. They then raised human right issues before local governments by lobbying, while seeking the involvement and support of human rights NGOs like AI. NGOs then mobilized expertise on human rights and made them available to the local governments, to educate and encourage sympathetic governments to pursue human rights and freedoms. This often utilized conventions and declarations of the UN in persuading local governments to pursue human right issues. For example, the NGOs in Africa joined the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and used treaties with local governments through the Human Rights Watch and gave each government veto. The goal was to establish a strong norm among governments that were reluctant to meet human rights and freedom concerns under moral pressure by using veto.
Activities NGOs in Africa have successfully used in changing and promoting human rights concerns include the use of participatory approaches like the formation of groups, causes and activities, as seen with community-based groups and churches.
NGOs in Africa are also able to promote human rights concerns by increasing participation of individuals, groups, government, and organizations through legal resources.
NGOs also have promoted human rights in Africa through aggressive forums, like lawyers using courts to fight for rights.
In effect of these activities, this research finds numerous examples of the contribution of NGOs in the improvement of human rights and freedoms in Africa, across different political, social, and economic aspects. NGOs in Africa have succeed in promoting human rights and freedoms, civil rights and liberties. For example, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in Malawi, which emanated from a civil society and led by Vera Chirwa a human rights activist and a detainee of dictator Banda Hastings.
The LRC contributed in the education of Malawians on their human rights, carried out legal research, and gave legal representation to low-income groups (Bosire & Mutua 2011). The organization also contributed to human rights concern through advocacy by organizing conferences on electoral and constitutional reforms, and brought forward cases on behalf of illegal detainees, victims of police brutality, and unlawful deaths (Matanga 2010). NGOs in Africa also successfully promoted and protected human rights and monitored human…