Human Rights in Africa

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The United Nations and the advancement of human rights in Africa

The United Nations and the advancement of human rights in Africa Wilfred Nderitu1

This paper seeks to interrogate the rights-based approach to development and poverty reduction as espoused by the instruments and policies of the United Nations, considering Africa as the key beneficiary of the UN Millennium Development Campaign. The author will also enumerate the justifications for considering poverty as a human rights issue under international human rights law, and how this impacts on the advancement of human rights in Africa. Included is an endeavour to locate the direct and indirect contributions made by the different sections of the international community, including the international criminal justice system, to significantly reduce extreme poverty and hunger and, in so doing, preserve human dignity in Africa as envisioned by the international human rights regime. Furthermore, the paper seeks to justify the responsibility of the State in poverty alleviation from a juristic perspective, and argues for the domestication of international human rights standards in developing countries as well as the ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as complementary actions towards improving the state of human rights in Africa. The paper will also analyse human rights gaps, particularly those emerging from the socio-economic fabric of developing countries, such as a lack of fundamental freedoms and impunity.

That poverty is a universal phenomenon and a matter of significant global concern can hardly be disputable. The international community, under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) has itself recognised this and acted upon its responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level, by committing to the Millennium Declaration, the targets of which are commonly referred to as the Millennium Development Goals. One of the most important provisions of the Millennium Declaration is perhaps that of the commitment to development and poverty eradication. By this Declaration, the international community commits to spare no effort in their 1

I wish to express my gratitude to James Gondi for his assistance with some of the background research that went into this paper. 81

The United Nations and the advancement of human rights in Africa

pursuit of the complete eradication of poverty. The particulars of the international community’s commitment towards poverty eradication include the following:2 To halve by the year 2015, the proportion of the world’s peoples whose incomes are less than one dollar a day and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger and, by the same date, to halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water.

The particulars of the poverty scourge are more prevalent in developing countries, particularly Africa, and are characterised by hunger, no access to safe drinking water, and the inability of the majority of the population to achieve the minimum acceptable standards of living that are required in order to ensure basic human dignity. In the Millennium Declaration, the global human family resolves to –3 [c]reate an environment – at the national and global level alike – which is conducive to development and to the elimination of poverty.

It is the position of this paper that creating such an environment requires a multipronged approach to dealing with poverty: an approach which dares to transcend the boundaries of economics and to address wider issues which affect the global environment’s capacity to generate development and, in so doing, reduce poverty and hunger. Any poverty eradication strategy would involve creating income-generation opportunities. The reality, however, is that such opportunities cannot be created in an anarchical or unstable socio-political environment. Hence, there is a need for a...
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