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Professor Frans Viljoen, Director of the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, on August 2019 delivered a public lecture in Kigali, Rwanda, on the contemporary challenges that the African Union human rights system faces.

kigali group 2019Students on the Master's in Sexual and Reproductive Rights programme, at the University of Kigali.

The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, from 26 to 30 August 2019 for the first time hosts part of its Master's programme in Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Africa in Rwanda.

The programme is presented mostly online, but students also annually attend two "block-weeks" during which they receive lectures and engage in discussions. Thirteen students from all across Africa have been selected as students of the programme. Two of these students are Rwandan nationals. These students are not able to come to South Africa,  where the on-site teaching usually takes place, because visas are not generally issued to Rwandan nationals to visit South Africa.  For this reason, the "block-week" was - by way of exception - organised to take place in Rwanda, in collaboration with the University of Kigali. 

kigali book welcome

Prof Waithima, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kigali, and Idi Gaparayi, the Dean of the School of Law, with the Director and Assistant Director of the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, who took the opportunity to donate some books published by the University of Pretoria Law Press (PULP) to the University of Kigali School of Law. Idi is an alumnus of another master's programme of the Centre, the Master's in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa. 


Professor Frans Viljoen, Director of the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, on August 2019 delivered a public lecture in Kigali, Rwanda, on the contemporary challenges that the African Union human rights system faces.

The lecture, which was held at the University of Kigali, was attended by government officials, academics and students. The lecture was followed by some incisive questions and comments, especially in so far as the lecture touched upon the situation in Rwanda.  

Viljoen started by highlighting the impact of rising global populism on the current human rights situation in Africa. While Africa is not a stranger to personalized leadership and networks of patrimonial privilege -- which display “populist” characteristics – the impact of the “new wave” of populism has also become manifest on the continent. Africa has witnessed the rise of authoritarian government, including developmentalist-authoritarian governance; the shrining space within which civil society can operate; closing down of spaces for open criticism and discussion;    and the concerted delegitimisation of the judiciary and the principle of judicial review.

This age of populism view multilateralism with increasing suspicion. Because domestic human rights protection depends for much of its legitimacy and visibility on its international dimension, which plays itself out in fora such as the UN Human Rights Council (at the global level) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ rights (at the regional level),  this level of distrust undermines human rights at the national level. As a result,  states more and more challenge the notion of “independent international human rights scrutiny”.  

Independent oversight over the domestic human rights record of member states is a core principle of the African Union.  This oversight is mainly the responsibility of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has been in existence for more than 30 years, and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has been adjudicating cases for a decade now.  Similar systems of oversight have also developed at the sub-regional level in Africa, particularly in West, East and Southern Africa.

In Africa, these challenges have manifested themselves in “pushback” and “backlash” against judicial and quasi-judicial institutions of the East African Community, the Southern African Development Community, and the African Union.  While “pushback” – understood as a critical engagement with a court’s judgments – is nothing unusual, “backlash” – a deliberate attempt to weaken a court’s mandate and functioning – is much more unusual and more ominous.

Pertinent examples of “pushback” at the sub-regional level are: the demise of the SADC Tribunal; and fundamental reforms in respect of the EAC Court of Justice. Within the African Union, two instances of “backlash” stand out.

The first is the withdrawal by the African Commission of the observer status granted to the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL). The Commission did so after the policy organs (the Executive Council and Assembly) first (in 2015) directed it to do so, and later (in 2018) gave it an ultimatum to comply. Although this decision by the AU policy organs is, on the surface, motivated by the argument that the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons’ rights go against the African Charter, it is feared that this issue is but a ruse to weaken the Commission. This fear arises from the fact that the Executive Council’s Decision in this regard does not only speak about the CAL issue but is more far-reaching in questioning the very existence of the Commission’s protective mandate.

The second is the withdrawal by Rwanda of its declaration under Article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter establishing the African Court.  Such a declaration allows direct access to victims to approach the Court. Rwanda withdrew its acceptance of direct access on the basis that it did not foresee that even persons accused of having participated or of questioning the genocide would be able to submit cases to the Court. Viljoen expressed the view that the government’s position seems disingenuous, as their acceptance of individual access was without qualification.

In conclusion,  the lecture pondered ways in which to reverse the trend towards the erosion of human rights-based oversight in Africa.  In summary, it is pertinent that those interested in advancing human rights should forge coalitions, and meet the assault on human rights in ways that are imaginative, resolute, but also take on board in the spirit of self-reflection the criticism against human rights.

The lecture took place in the framework of a visit to Rwanda by Centre staff and students to participate in the “block week” component of the Masters in Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Rwanda. This week was hosted with the assistance of the University of Kigali, and in particular, the Dean of the School of Law, Idi Gaperayi, who is an alumnus of the Centre’s flagship Master’s programme (in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) (HRDA).  


For more information, please contact:

Thuto Maqutu
Special Projects Coordinator

Programme Manager: LLM/MPhil, LLD/DPhil Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Africa (SRRA)

Tel: +27 (0) 12 420 3587
thuto.maqutu@up.ac.za 

 

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Professor Frans Viljoen, Director of the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, on August 2019 delivered a public lecture in Kigali, Rwanda, on the contemporary challenges that the African Union human rights system faces.

kigali group 2019Students on the Master's in Sexual and Reproductive Rights programme, at the University of Kigali.

The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, from 26 to 30 August 2019 for the first time hosts part of its Master's programme in Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Africa in Rwanda.

The programme is presented mostly online, but students also annually attend two "block-weeks" during which they receive lectures and engage in discussions. Thirteen students from all across Africa have been selected as students of the programme. Two of these students are Rwandan nationals. These students are not able to come to South Africa,  where the on-site teaching usually takes place, because visas are not generally issued to Rwandan nationals to visit South Africa.  For this reason, the "block-week" was - by way of exception - organised to take place in Rwanda, in collaboration with the University of Kigali. 

kigali book welcome

Prof Waithima, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kigali, and Idi Gaparayi, the Dean of the School of Law, with the Director and Assistant Director of the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, who took the opportunity to donate some books published by the University of Pretoria Law Press (PULP) to the University of Kigali School of Law. Idi is an alumnus of another master's programme of the Centre, the Master's in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa. 


Professor Frans Viljoen, Director of the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, on August 2019 delivered a public lecture in Kigali, Rwanda, on the contemporary challenges that the African Union human rights system faces.

The lecture, which was held at the University of Kigali, was attended by government officials, academics and students. The lecture was followed by some incisive questions and comments, especially in so far as the lecture touched upon the situation in Rwanda.  

Viljoen started by highlighting the impact of rising global populism on the current human rights situation in Africa. While Africa is not a stranger to personalized leadership and networks of patrimonial privilege -- which display “populist” characteristics – the impact of the “new wave” of populism has also become manifest on the continent. Africa has witnessed the rise of authoritarian government, including developmentalist-authoritarian governance; the shrining space within which civil society can operate; closing down of spaces for open criticism and discussion;    and the concerted delegitimisation of the judiciary and the principle of judicial review.

This age of populism view multilateralism with increasing suspicion. Because domestic human rights protection depends for much of its legitimacy and visibility on its international dimension, which plays itself out in fora such as the UN Human Rights Council (at the global level) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ rights (at the regional level),  this level of distrust undermines human rights at the national level. As a result,  states more and more challenge the notion of “independent international human rights scrutiny”.  

Independent oversight over the domestic human rights record of member states is a core principle of the African Union.  This oversight is mainly the responsibility of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has been in existence for more than 30 years, and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has been adjudicating cases for a decade now.  Similar systems of oversight have also developed at the sub-regional level in Africa, particularly in West, East and Southern Africa.

In Africa, these challenges have manifested themselves in “pushback” and “backlash” against judicial and quasi-judicial institutions of the East African Community, the Southern African Development Community, and the African Union.  While “pushback” – understood as a critical engagement with a court’s judgments – is nothing unusual, “backlash” – a deliberate attempt to weaken a court’s mandate and functioning – is much more unusual and more ominous.

Pertinent examples of “pushback” at the sub-regional level are: the demise of the SADC Tribunal; and fundamental reforms in respect of the EAC Court of Justice. Within the African Union, two instances of “backlash” stand out.

The first is the withdrawal by the African Commission of the observer status granted to the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL). The Commission did so after the policy organs (the Executive Council and Assembly) first (in 2015) directed it to do so, and later (in 2018) gave it an ultimatum to comply. Although this decision by the AU policy organs is, on the surface, motivated by the argument that the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons’ rights go against the African Charter, it is feared that this issue is but a ruse to weaken the Commission. This fear arises from the fact that the Executive Council’s Decision in this regard does not only speak about the CAL issue but is more far-reaching in questioning the very existence of the Commission’s protective mandate.

The second is the withdrawal by Rwanda of its declaration under Article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter establishing the African Court.  Such a declaration allows direct access to victims to approach the Court. Rwanda withdrew its acceptance of direct access on the basis that it did not foresee that even persons accused of having participated or of questioning the genocide would be able to submit cases to the Court. Viljoen expressed the view that the government’s position seems disingenuous, as their acceptance of individual access was without qualification.

In conclusion,  the lecture pondered ways in which to reverse the trend towards the erosion of human rights-based oversight in Africa.  In summary, it is pertinent that those interested in advancing human rights should forge coalitions, and meet the assault on human rights in ways that are imaginative, resolute, but also take on board in the spirit of self-reflection the criticism against human rights.

The lecture took place in the framework of a visit to Rwanda by Centre staff and students to participate in the “block week” component of the Masters in Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Rwanda. This week was hosted with the assistance of the University of Kigali, and in particular, the Dean of the School of Law, Idi Gaperayi, who is an alumnus of the Centre’s flagship Master’s programme (in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) (HRDA).  


For more information, please contact:

Thuto Maqutu
Special Projects Coordinator

Programme Manager: LLM/MPhil, LLD/DPhil Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Africa (SRRA)

Tel: +27 (0) 12 420 3587
thuto.maqutu@up.ac.za