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Africa's National Human Rights Institutions and the Responsibility to Protect

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The essay argues that one of the greatest shifts in the international humanitarian order heralded by the end of the Cold War has been the concept of holding state sovereignty accountable to an international human rights standard. It argues that while the concept of R2P has generally focused on humanitarian intervention at a macro level, the period since the 1990s has also witnessed an increase of micro-level institutions, in the form of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) that can advance R2P, including 31 such institutions in Africa. NHRIs can potentially bolster R2P and foster peace in countries in which they operate. The general popularity of R2P as an international standard is contrasted with the great suspicion with which it is regarded by a number of governments—particularly in Africa, where sovereignty is guarded with passion as a result of the anticolonial struggles that gave birth to national independence on the continent. The author further argues that NHRIs—when properly institutionalised and functioning optimally—can play an important role in protecting the rights of vulnerable groups, and have the potential to help countries attain international human rights norms and standards without unduly threatening their sovereign independence. The essay examines the role of NHRIs in the four cases of Sierra Leone, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa, and assesses the establishment and operation of African NHRIs using measures formulated by the internationally agreed Paris Principles of 1993.


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