oa Fundamina : A Journal of Legal History - African bills of rights in a comparative perspective
Although the issue of human rights protection is the product of a long history of the struggle for social justice and resistance to oppression in all societies, serious efforts to legally recognise and protect human rights in Africa is very much a post-1990 phenomenon. This came as part of the prolonged fit of "constitutional fever" marked by new or revised constitutions that were ostensibly designed to usher in a new era of democratic governance, constitutionalism, and respect for the rule of law and human rights and end decades of often harsh and inhumane dictatorships. One major sign of the apparent desire of African governments to align with the trend towards the universal recognition of human rights in domestic constitutional law has been the incorporation of bills of rights or provisions designed to protect human rights in most African post-1990 constitutions.
Bills of rights or provisions protecting human rights have particular importance in Africa because of the continent's poor human rights record dating particularly from the colonial period and probably even before then. Whilst bills of rights are not to be seen as the ultimate solution to the problem, they are a crucial part of it. For example, the bill of rights is at the very core of the South African Constitution as a direct result of the gross abuses of human rights that took place during the apartheid period and the desire to "heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights". Whether or not these bills of rights will form the basis on which a human rights conscious culture will be embedded in the African polity remains an open question.
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