In This Review

Human Rights: A Political and Cultural Critique
Human Rights: A Political and Cultural Critique
By Makua Mutua
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002, 263 pp
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The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights: The System in Practice, 1986-2000
The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights: The System in Practice, 1986-2000
Edited by Malcolm Evans and Rachel Murray
Cambridge University Press, 2002, 417 pp
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Both these books start from the premise that Africa urgently needs to build a culture of respect for human rights if it is to achieve political stability and social and economic progress. Law professor Mutua argues forcefully that this culture cannot take hold if it is imposed paternalistically as a Western creation that non-Western societies must swallow uncritically -- especially if human rights are packaged with liberal democracy and market fundamentalism, now both widely associated with the hypocrisies of Western-driven globalization. The growth of a legitimate human rights culture in Africa, Mutua says, depends on a reconstruction of the international human rights corpus to replace its Eurocentric bias ("runaway individualism") with a truly universal cross-fertilization of cultural, religious, and legal traditions. Several contributors to the valuable Evans-Murray collection concur with Mutua, but most are concerned less with broad philosophical principles than with the practical implementation of the African Charter by its signatories. They closely examine the workings of the commission established to hear cases and speculate about the potential of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, which is soon to be launched. Most agree that although there is far to go, these initiatives deserve support.