Human Rights in Africa 70 Years after the Birth of UDHR: Moment of Deep Reflections – Terinwa Adesipo



            To begin with, it is quintessential to say seventy hearty cheers to the Universal Declaration on Human and People’s Right (UDHR), for those who are not adequately informed, the great news is that UDHR is now a ‘certified’ septuagenarian. Having given birth and adopted such wonderful offsprings such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR), Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC), Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or degrading treatment or Torture (CAT) among other innumerable fruits of its existence, nothing could be more fulfilling.

For a septuagenarian who can boast of this great as well as momentous achievement at the age of seventy, nothing can be more fulfilling, but this does not means the end is near. On the contrary this is just the beginning of the perpetual end. And for those who are not aware, let me quickly inform you, the UDHR is endowed with immortality. In recognition of its exceptional achievement, the international community in a life-time achievement award nature has crowned a vast majority of its provision with the title of Jus cogens; customary international law. On this note, I couldn’t agree more with the dictum that says “…in the human rights movement. No other document has so caught the historical movement, achieved the same moral and rhetoric force, or exerted as much influence on the movement as a whole” as the UDHR

Now what are human rights? The undefiled history of world development makes it apparent that human right is the life and soul of every man, without rights it becomes absolutely impossible for man to peacefully and happily exist. Tangibly, it is the oxygen through which every man maintains his continuing existence, without rights, man would be in chains and shackles everywhere he is. In another but similar manner, the right to enjoy fundamental Human right is fundamental, it is a condition that goes to the root of every man’s existence, in all simplicity; it is the only constant reminder that in a man lays uniqueness, greatness and rationality.

It was U Thant, the eminent former Secretary General of the United Nations who quipped that “the worth of the individual human being is the most unique and precious of all God’s asset and must be the beginning and end of all our efforts….”, flowing from this apothegm, it can be logically observed and deduced that the beauty of human existence are impossible to achieve and pragmatically experience without the full protection of the sacred rights of man.


Laws are the protector of rights, without laws it is almost impossible for rights to be protected and guaranteed. Although it is a well-worn axiom that a state without laws is a state without crime, permits me to also add, that a state without laws is a state without rights. Let me rightly establish, rights can independently exist without laws, but their manifestation and protection are what is impossible to achieve without the unshakable foundation of the law. It is to this establishment that various laws were created to govern as well as guarantee the rights of man, ranging from statutes in municipal laws, to the constitutions of various states, to various conventions, bills and treaties.

In a progressive bid to therefore ensure the protection and promotion for the respect for human rights and fundamental freedom, while also extinguishing tyranny and oppression, with the aim of securing universal and effective recognition and observance of human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Right was birthed on the 10th of December, 1948 in Paris, but sadly, the real manifestation of this declaration of right as well as every other hallowed instruments of human rights is yet to be effectively felt in every part of the world, most especially on the Africa continent.

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Of course, rights should not just be provided for by laws; they must be protected, enforced and guaranteed, without which it absolutely becomes useless. Although, various states in Africa undisputably possess laws which provides for human rights, rather than enforce them, they divorce them away from the aspect of enforceable laws. Inquiringly, what do we say of a continent where we are not even our brother’s keeper, a world where unjust killings are manifested against one another, where xenophobic attack is the latest breaking news and Fulani Massacres is the order of the day, but despite all this, we still claim to be a united continent.

Where have we abandoned such sacred provisions of Article 2 of the UDHR which provides for the right against discrimination based on nationality or what about the sacred provisions of Article 3 which guarantees for everybody the right to life, liberty and security of persons? Sadly, we have obviously turned a blind eye to these fundamental provisions of UDHR and tossed them away into the bin of unenforced rights. Rather than abide by such fundamental provision of rights, we act as though we are all above the law and as such we are all free to manifest assorted illegalities and criminalities. The question therefore begging for answer is, if this fundamental human right cannot be enjoyed by man, who else will?

In a manner that bespeak underdevelopment, it becomes greatly disappointing to know that such aspect of social, economic and cultural rights are largely unenforceable in every African states with the exception of South Africa, despite being unequivocally guaranteed by such aspect of Article 21- 29 of UDHR which provide for such basic rights such as right to education, cultural life, standard and adequate living, suitable employment, medical and health facilities among innumerable others. How do you say that in a world where education is a basic necessity of existence, there are still some countries where this right is not guaranteed or at least respected?

The distasteful effect of this is that young boys and girls in faraway rural areas must spend their entire life in farms when they ought to be in school simply because their parents are not financially buoyant to cater for their educational expenses. This evidently is ridiculous, because how do you say that such essential right to good and accessible medical and health facilities are non-justiciable, are you saying the financially weak must perish because they cannot afford medical care when ill?, or Pray tell, how do you say that the right to adequate living is not enforceable in a world where man should live comfortably and healthily?

Nothing I believe is more unjust in this patch of human existence than a law that seeks to baptize these sacred rights of men as non-justiciable. Also as a result of rights violation, it is so disheartening to see how children are been kept away in adult prison, how they are being made to experience grave suffering and tribulations for no just cause, how the people must worship their political leaders before they can have access to the basic amenities of life, how epileptic power supply is what defines the electricity life of many African states, and how billions and trillions of the commonwealth are embezzled and kept away in foreign accounts by those elected to be in charge of affair. Pray tell, where is the manifestation of rights on the continent of Africa? It was Martin Luther King Jr., the great civil right activist who wisely said, that “ a right delayed is a right denied” , if at this patch of human existence, basic rights such as social and economic rights are not enforceable, then when will the day come when it will be justiciable and enforceable?.

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As if this were not enough, archaic and inhumane conduct such as slavery that once defined what is Islamically termed Jahiliyyah  simply meaning period of Ignorance was resurrected back to life in Libya in the 21st century Africa, an action which kept the whole world wondering whether there is ever such thing baptized fundamental human rights in the Africa continent or whether there is –although impossible- a reservation to the provision of Article 4 of the UDHR which provides for the right against slavery or any form of servitude in this part of Africa. In a world where every man is his own master, some persons still take delight in subjecting their fellow men to such inhuman and barbaric treatment such as slavery. Pray tell, where is the evidence of our civilized existence? From any rational standpoint, nothing can be more offensive to mankind than a people that rejoice in such iniquitous actions in a world defined, characterized and beautified with plethora of human rights.

Fundamentally, it is impossible to neglect the material fact that human rights also includes respecting the rights of other people, but is this really experienced on the Africa continent? Just out of curiosity, how can we claim to respect the rights of other people when a few group of persons “keep” for themselves what belongs to the majority, how can we claim to respect the rights of others when those elected, selected and appointed to be in charge of affairs embezzles the commonwealth while making other people to suffer such great tribulations that comes with economic hardship. This is obviously and evidently disrespecting to the concept of what is ever known as human rights.

To the many who have alleged that i am unfoundedly jumping to conclusion about the absence of human right in Africa, i think it is time for them to establish where the manifestation of rights is in a continent where the political leaders are impervious to the deteriorating conditions of their people, where the manifestation of rights is in a continent that wallow in under-development, where the manifestation of right is in a continent that languishes in terror of disorderliness and perilous hunger. In my view, we cannot really lay claim to respecting the great virtues of the UDHR when we glory in actions that bespeak hatred for our fellow men. After many years preceding the birth of this hallowed legal instrument that drives the concept of human rights, here in Africa we have little or nothing to show for it. This is nothing but disheartening.


            Moving forward, let it be clearly noted, that there can be no peace without respect for human rights neither can the continent attain progress without upholding this sacred principles that guides the existence of man. To deny people their human right just like the immortal Mandiba once quipped “is to challenge their very humanity”. As for me, i am –and will forever remain- a staunch believer in a great African continent, supported by laws and institutions that limit extremes of injustice and inequality, inhumane treatment and disrespect for our fellow men. I faithfully pray and strongly look forward for the day when the rights of men will be religiously enforced on the African continent. In all reality, those uncivilized years of crime against humanity such as unjust killings, corrupt leaders, slavery, unemployment, illiteracy, tyranny as well as oppression should be tales of the past and not happenings of the present. Before progress and prosperity can be attained in Africa, human rights must be religiously enforced by all and sundry, and those who don’t, must be made to know that this is an affront on humanity and as such, they must be made to face the consequence.

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At this point of our existence, it is only apt and befitting for us to necessarily become angels of peace, apostles of social justice, prophet of life more abundance and the rule of law, all of which lies in the religious enforcement of human rights. Let me essentially re-state that all this are impossible to achieve without love, because it is absolutely impossible to respect the rights of others when we don’t love them. In this light, we must therefore learn to love and tolerate not just the actions but also the religion, origin, nationality and even decisions of one another, we must necessarily understand that we are a people with a unique existence; it is only through this that we can begin to manifest our potential as a continent flowing with milk and honey.

Essentially, we must also at this historical time rise to our feet and take our place among the league of successful continent. In achieving this, fundamental human rights is the mighty knight in the shiny armour, the only one that possess the power to combat this menace that currently bedecks our continent and also guide us in successfully achieving the glory of a promise land. From an untainted viewpoint, only this is the mandate of heaven for a great and prosperous African continent, we must therefore do everything possible to keep it alive, so that the efforts of our heroes past such as those who created the UDHR as well as every other progressive legal instruments of human rights should not be allowed to go in vain.

Finally, it is absolutely quintessential to congratulate every believer in the promotion of rights and the protection of the rights of others, those who understand fully well that human right is what defines our humanity, and that without it, life will be an empirical reflection of Hobbes’ state of nature, “Nasty, short and brutish”, those who understand that protecting and respecting the rights of others is a duty and not a choice, that it is a commitment and not something you play with, I say Cheers. And to the oppressed anywhere in the world, this progressive aspiration sends the message that you are not alone, enjoy today, believe in what it represents and have it at the back of your mind that your freedom is near. It may take time but it will surely come, because behind a dark night, there is a bright day after. So no matter how hard or boiling it gets, keep your heads high, stick your chest out and be happy. But when the going gets tough, remember to keep alive Marley’s word that which counsels us not to give up the fight. The future sure is bright.


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