The International Human Rights Exchange (IHRE) program held its first guest lecture of the year on Thursday 19th May, discussing the effectiveness of African and other continental organisations in their efforts to protect human rights.
The topic was titled “Weak and Ineffective?” and covered largely the African Union (AU)’s performance, assessed by experts in the field, of their failures and successes to unite African states under one umbrella which aims at human rights protection, continental peace and security, economic growth and development and good governance.
IHRE, which is the world’s only multidisciplinary undergraduate programme in Human Rights invited, on their guest panel, South African Foreign Service ambassador, Thomas Wheeler, executive director of Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF), Gabriel Shumba, Wits International relations lecturer, Malte Brosig and researcher in International Relations, Marie Gilbert.
The lecture was centred around the clarity that human rights protection in Africa has to a large extend been ineffective as informed by the recent violence in countries such as Libya, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ivory Coast and Kenya.
Wheeler cited this as being caused by “internal fractures” African organisations have in terms of “the failure in leaders to have a joined idea that human rights should remain central and form the base for other rights”
He said: “In Africa, national interests which are overwhelmingly directed at economic growth are given priority over political rights”
The problem of leadership was further illustrated by Brosig who argued that “decisions made in African organisations are subject to manipulation because of monetary funding received from external forces”.
“The AU for example receives 50% of its budget from the EU, therefore whether leaders will make decisions which are entirely beneficial to the people they serve is questionable,” he said.
Solutions to how African organisations can be strengthened and made more effective were covered briefly and panellists all agreed that joint efforts are required, especially from “hegemonic states such as South Africa”.
Shumba said: “As the economic hub on the continent, South Africa should set the moral code and lead by example. In this way countries which violate human rights will be shamed”.
The role of civil society organisations in fighting for human rights protection was said to be “pivotal” and “judicial structures such as the African court needs to become more active by making decisions which are binding to all states”, according to Shumba.