n African Human Rights Law Journal - Homicide in traditional African societies : customary law and the question of accountability

Volume 17 Number 1
  • ISSN : 1609-073X
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2096



The article discusses the attitudes of traditional African societies towards the taking of human life, aiming to understand the incidence, nature and causes of killing in traditional society. The article explores the responses of these societies to homicide, seeking to unearth legal, religious or other norms, if any, governing the taking of human life. The article interrogates the issue of accountability, to discover whether traditional societies recognised any obligation to ensure that a killer was made to account for his or her act – thereby inevitably raising questions about the right to life. The article concludes that in the customary law of these societies values and norms in respect of killing existed and that notions of accountability were indeed recognised, although (being drawn from strong communitarian foundations and a widespread belief in the supernatural) they differed significantly from modern human rights norms.

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