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History of Human Rights in Africa

The notion of Human Rights was a part and parcel of pre-colonial African culture and was embedded in the traditions of the people. Africans followed those traditions with great interest, and thus Human Rights, at least those acknowledged by the community, were respected in daily life. But then, the slave trade brought about the conceptual elimination of Human Rights and unbalanced the traditional equilibrium, while the immediately following period of colonization  effaced almost all that was left of it by encouraging racism and discrimination.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by The General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. Later on, the process of decolonization started in Africa, and more than ten years later, in the 1960s, the African states gained their independence.  On June 27, 1981, 53 African states adopted the Banjul Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, created under the Organization of African Unity.  
The Banjul Charter is destined to promote the rights stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it also includes some extra clauses, which are perceived as adaptations to the characteristic of African society and culture (in which the status of the individual is defined within the family, society and state). Some of these specific provisions refer to: granting not only individual rights but also collective rights; giving more importance to “second generation” economic, social and cultural rights; including the right to development; besides allotting rights, also imposing duties towards the state and community upon the individual.




Women’s rights in Africa

The African (Banjul) Charter of Human and People’s Rights also includes an article on the Rights of Women, which provides that: “The state shall ensure the elimination of every discrimination act against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of the women and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions”. The article was criticized by some, being considered too general and vague.
The situation of women’s rights in Africa is very delicate, because most of them still live in traditional communitarian structures which are oppressive in some regards. Within the family unit, for example, women suffer inequality in education opportunities and rights of inheritance and are denied reproductive rights.

Therefore, the application of the charter’s provisions is expected to respect traditions and customs, but only as long as they are consistent with international norms on human rights. But this has proved to be challenging because of the vague formulation of the article on women’s rights which leaves space to interpretations. Another issue which complicates the enforcement of the charter’s provisions is that a claim of violation of those provisions may be brought before the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights only after the exhaustion of local remedies.Consequently, before the national courts tension between the protection of women’s rights and tradition is likely to occur.