Since the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), it has continued to be engaged with human rights as proven by the struggle for decolonization, self-determination, and independence of the African continent. Embodied with this, obviously, is the fact that those fighting and agitating for independence sought human right principles to justify their struggle because colonialism disregarded human rights of the colonized persons. In contrast to the OAU, the African Union (AU) made human rights an explicit component of its obligation as encoded in its Act and human rights in its mainstream programs and activities. However, with no doubt, the current approaches require strengthening with a perspective of creating a holistic, integrated and comprehensive methodology to ensure respect for all human rights.
OAU to AU: An overview
The OAU charter is grounded on the principle of non-interference and state sovereignty. It stipulates the battle for decolonization of Africa as the main objective. It was argued that Africa could not be viewed as free unless all the colonies had achieved independence, the right to self-determination and emerged victorious in the fight against apartheid. In connection with this was the OAU member states' obligation of providing support for persons involved in the liberation wars as prescribed by the African Charter. One such colony was Namibia: it benefited profoundly from the aid it received from the liberation committees of OAU (Nmehielle, 2011). Africa's adoption of shared positions, collective voice of independence, and colonization at global fora like the UN pressured the government of Southern Africa to relinquish its hold on Namibia. This eventually led to acceding to the majority rule in South Africa.
In their battle for independence, the African continent used human rights principles to justify their wars. Drawing from colonization, people in Africa suffered from years of gross human rights abuses and oppression (Bachir, 2009). In this context, they used their wars to reveal these abuses and battle for their liberation. Furthermore, many independent nations that supported the liberation groups suffered the brunt of South Africa's wrath when this nation retaliated with destabilizing incursions and bombings across its borders. Such countries made sacrifices that would only have been done as part of the broader pan-African agenda as encoded in Africa's quest for dignity, identity and human rights (Diagne, 2010). Therefore, it is evident that the concept of human rights is strongly rooted in the struggle against apartheid and colonialism. In fact, the legitimacy of the anti-social struggles has been recognized in some human rights instruments, as well as in solutions embraced by the UN.
The OAU charter on human rights and the African Charter adopted in 1981 were enforced in 1986 (Harris, 2009). States that had been colonized and the oppressed persons came to be freed from these bonds of oppression by resorting to any means approved by the global community. In addition, it provided the first explicit acknowledgement of the right to development and enhanced human rights as an issue that deserves concerted attention by the OAU. The values that support the Charter entail notions of rights, solidarity, responsibility, and community, which are regarded as values that inspire and inform grass roots methodologies to human rights. In the course of the OAU, numerous human right devices were also adopted. These encompassed the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children (ACRWC). This protocol governs various aspects of refugee issues in Africa and the protocol that establishes the human rights court in Africa. On the other hand, it is believed that while the OAU assumed a strategic role in the freedom and decolonization of people and countries, it did not expressly support the inherent values of human rights standards and norms as they relate to groups and individuals. Moreover, by embracing an unconditional position regarding non-interference, the OAU became ineffective in promoting and protecting human rights in a free and decolonized Africa.
Two vital developments deepened and extended Africa's dedication to democracy, development, governance, and human rights. The first was the subscription to the Constitutive Act of the African Union. This reaffirmed Africa's devotion to protecting and promoting human rights. The second is obviously the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) that has placed human rights at the core of development. The goal of both is to reinforce cultural, social, and economic rights, including the right to development (Nmehielle, 2011). The formation of the AU was a welcome chance of erecting human rights firmly on the African agenda. The Constitutive Act of AU marked a gigantic departure from the OAU Charter in numerous aspects:
I. A shift from non-interference to non-indifference, encompassing the right of the African Union to mediate in the affairs of any member state
II. The profound recognition of human rights
III. Promotion of cultural, economic and social development
IV. A strategy grounded on gender equality and human-centered development
With the dynamism of human rights, the AU and OAU started to take on broad emerging issues of human rights over the years as proven by the increasing number of meetings, conferences, resolutions, and declarations adopted regarding human rights. This was coupled the explicit human rights instruments like the ACRWC, African Charter on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR), the Rights of Women in Africa and the Charter on Democracy. For these instruments to be effectively enforced, these bodies were formed with a mandate of explicit human rights advocacy. All the prime original goals contained in the OAU Charter were retained in the Constitutive Act of AU (Bachir, 2009).
Most importantly, in order to address temporary challenges and current realities, the Act has similarly enumerated other key objectives, which have not been captured within the OAU Charter. Among them is the main point of departure. The formation of the AU is predicted that it must depict integration and a qualitatively higher form of unity for the African continent. Therefore, the basic objective is to implement an effective and efficient AU to deliver an improved Africa. A better AU must have the commitment and the capacity to satisfy the aspirations of the African people in their desire for efficient and participatory governance systems, peace, security, human rights, integration, development, and social justice.
While the non-intervention principle in the affairs of member states was a principle supported by the OAU, the AU has embraced a more interventionist methodology to end the war crimes, genocide, human rights violations, crimes against humanity and unconstitutional government reforms through an approach of imposing sanctions. In addition, it has continued to establish relevant institutions and legal frameworks to support its goals. In doing this, the AU has paved the path towards the formation of a culture of non-indifference towards crimes against humanity and war crimes in Africa (Diagne, 2010). Moreover, these principles portray the approach and new thinking among African states on how to coordinate shared responses to the present day socioeconomic and political changes. This is coupled with g responsiveness to the contemporary aspirations and demands of the ordinary people.
Analysts in this area have argued that the transformation of the OAU to AU has generated a monumental potential for human rights to take a center stage in the AU. In addition, as the AU progresses to strengthen its institutions and adopt the human rights instruments, it has enriched human rights protection systems in Africa and offered a supportive environment within which to seek human rights protection and promotion vigorously. These mechanisms include Peace and Security Council
(PSC), Pan-African Parliament (PAP) and the African Peer
Review Mechanism (APRM). Unlike the OAU, within which human rights continued to be preserved by the African Commission, the AU explicitly guarantees that human rights are mainstreamed across its activities, programs, and organs. Regardless of the above, there are legitimate concerns pertaining to the ability of AU to live up to the heightened expectations of making a complete difference to Africa's human rights.
The OAU is faced with various challenges with social, economic, and political dimensions. Overcoming these challenges demands commitment at the highest levels of the organization and its resources. This section illuminates some of the major issues related to the promotion and protection of human rights.
African values and Culture
African cultures have been rightfully criticized for failing to respect women's rights, particularly because of harmful practices that neglect gender equality. Various campaigns have been launched against the practices that encompass early marriage and female genital mutilation. National policies and laws have been enacted to curb the practices and end discrimination targeting women. From the continental perspective, the ACRWC and Women's Rights Protocol aim to combat these practices. However, these practices are still prevalent (Harris, 2009). Women's movements have reaffirmed that traditional practices that are deeply rooted within the society cannot be simply legislated and eradicated at once. They also argue that combating these practices demands dialogue with traditional leaders and communities, political will and commitment, as well as human rights and civic education.
Equally, it would be wrong to claim that culture lacks a place in the human…