oa Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - A new breed of institution: the development of human rights commissions in Commonwealth Africa with particular reference to the Uganda Human Rights Commission

Volume 32, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0010-4051



Prior to 1990 the constitutional landscape of much of Commonwealth Africa was characterised by military rule or executive dictatorship in the form of the one-party state coupled with the widespread abuse of human rights. Inevitably, institutional checks and balances remained weak. Parliaments were essentially 'rubber stamp' bodies, judicial independence was largely undermined and the under-funded and under-powered offices of the ombudsman made little impact. Since then a new 'wind of change' has transformed the constitutional and political landscape with many Commonwealth African states adopting new constitutions that seek to address the ills of the past. The strengthening of democratic institutions is one of their key features. The impetus for this largely emanated from the 1991 Harare Commonwealth Declaration in which Commonwealth heads of government pledged to protect and promote the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth concentrating especially upon 'democracy, democratitic processes and institutions which reflect national circumstances'. In the case of Ghana, South Africa, Malawi and Uganda this resulted in the establishment of human rights commissions. These represent a 'new breed' of autochthonous institution designed to promote and protect human rights and the concepts of good governance, accountability and the rule of law that form the basis of the Harare Declaration.

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