The African Union and its radical stance towards human rights and democracy.
Any research that attempts to tackle the issue of human rights in Africa is likely to raise emotions because of the history of perpetual human rights violations in the region. Nevertheless, the establishment of the African Union (AU) brings hope that Africa has turned the corner. The provisions of the preamble, objectives and principles of the Constitutive Act of the African Union are crystal clear. Article 3 (h) of the Act makes a critical provision in terms of human and people's rights. (See appendix 1). Paradoxically, this article recognizes the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which led to innumerable inconsistencies in enforcing human rights under the Organization of African Unity (OAU) (See appendix 2). By implication, the recognition of the 'Charter' justifies its existence in the new African human rights set up. The 'Charter' historically introduced the concept of peoples' in the definition and application of human rights in the African region. This further complicated the concept of human rights, and made it difficult to enforce them. As a result, the dichotomy between human rights and peoples' rights practice in the African region became difficult to reconcile. Hence, the concepts became vulnerable to abuse by governments, who justified their violation of individual human rights for the benefit of peoples' rights. The above assertions hold true for the ailing African region that has evolved from a defunct OAU regime into the radical African Union human rights corpus. The dissolution of the OAU on 9 July 2002 during the last 38th ordinary session of the OAU Assembly in Durban, and the subsequent launching of the AU on the same occasion pioneered a new era for human and peoples' rights approach in the African region. The shift from the toothless-human-rights-system to a clear-visionary-human-rights-regime is an articulation of the desire and commitment to transform the African region. This study therefore reviews the pattern or system that the AU has employed in transforming human and peoples' rights in the African continent. Chapter two attempts to assess the prospects of the African Union to bring reforms in areas of human and peoples' rights, the rule of law, good governance and so on. A comparative analysis of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Constitutive Act of the African Union is drawn from the key clauses, objectives and intentions of the two human rights regimes. Chapter three presents an analytical comparison between the African Union and the European Union. The chapter documents the historical developments of the European Union to illustrate how far the African Union has to go to ensure long lasting peace and stability in the region. The discussion in this chapter acknowledges the differences in these two regions, but uses the European Union to draw some lessons. In so doing the study reviews the historical developments of the union of states that has advanced itself in critical areas of democracy, human rights, good governance and so on. Hence, the chapter recognizes the remarkable accomplishments of the African Union in the last five years. The parity of judges in the AU Commission, the commitment of 53 African nations to adopt and ratify the Constitutive Act of the African Union in record time, the establishment of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, the introduction of the African Peer Review Mechanism and the peace-keeping missions in Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo and so on are among the achievements of the Union in the last few years of its existence. In an attempt to justify the radical shift of the African Union from the OAU past, chapter four discusses the establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. Even though the idea of establishing a Court of justice emanated from the OAU decades after its existence, the chapter acknowledges the radical stance of the African Union to put in place a 'Court' from the beginning. The chapter further looks at the structure of the 'Court' in terms of its composition and election of judges, court procedure, court judgments and their execution and its relationship with the African Commission. In making recommendations and drawing conclusions, chapter five makes a strong point that the pre-requisite for stability and prosperity in the African region is through transforming and consolidating national institutions into democracy. The chapter also acknowledges the continued existence of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, but raises a concern that its existence is subject to abuse by non-democratic governments. The chapter concludes the study by drawing an inference that indeed the African Union represents a radical shift from the OAU in terms of promoting and protecting human and peoples' rights. However, the study acknowledges that the African Union will take some time to fully bear the benefits, but its efforts so far are worth the accolades.