A Guide to The African Human Rights System
The idea of drafting a document establishing a human rights protection mechanism in Africa was first conceived in the early 1960’s. At the first Congress of African Jurists, held in Lagos, Nigeria in 1961, the delegates adopted a declaration (referred to as the ‘Law of Lagos’) calling on African governments to adopt an African treaty on human rights with a court and a commission. However, at the time African governments did not take serious steps to promote this concept. The 1963 Charter establishing the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) imposed no explicit obligation on member states for the protection of human rights. The OAU’s founding Charter only required states parties to have due regard for human rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in their international relations. In spite of the absence of a clear human rights mandate, the OAU took bold steps to address a number of human rights issues such as decolonisation, racial discrimination, environmental protection and refugee problems. The continental organisation however ignored the massive human rights abuses perpetuated by some authoritarian African leaders against their own citizens. This was due largely to the OAU’s preference for socio-economic development, territorial integrity and state sovereignty over human rights protection, as well as firm reliance on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states.