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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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“A Source of Hope” - Cluster Project Works on Proposed Solutions in the Fight against Human Rights Violations in Africa


The Chair of African Legal Studies at the University of Bayreuth, Prof. Dr. Thoko Kaime, is currently working on a project entitled "When the Law is not Enough: Intractable Problems of Human Rights in Africa". Funded by the Cluster of Excellence Africa Multiple the inter-institutional and interdisciplinary project investigates why human rights violations in Africa are increasing instead of decreasing, even though relevant legal frameworks are already in place. In addition, the researchers are developing proposals to provide solutions in the fight against human rights violations. A discussion series on the topic starts on 26 October 2022.

Thoko Kaime

Prof. Kaime, your Cluster research project and the upcoming event series is scrutinizing questions of Human Rights in Africa – specifically the atrocities of human trafficking, child labour and the violation of LGBTQI+ rights. Can you tell us a little bit about the extent of these violations?
"Many African citizens still suffer the yoke of human rights abuses and in some cases their situations seem to be getting worse. Let me give you two examples: child labour continues to rob many African children of their future. According to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) global estimates on child labour in 2020, the number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years – with millions more at risk. Furthermore, the ILO estimates indicate that seventy-nine million children – nearly half of all those in child labour – were in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development. Another major human rights issue is society's treatment of the LGBTQI+ community: In countries across Africa, colonial-era laws continue to deny many citizens the right to choose whom they will love. Right across the continent, from Algeria to Zimbabwe, non-heterosexual relationships are subject to heavy penalties including in some cases death."

Extensive legal frameworks have been established in Africa to prevent these human rights violations from happening – what do these frameworks entail?
"Tremendous strides in the legal and institutional protection of human rights in Africa have seen the African Union champion an ever-growing framework of treaties and institutions dedicated to human rights protection. The African Charter on the Rights and welfare of the child (ACRWC) section 15 frowns at child labour. The African Charter on Human and People Rights talks about non-discrimination of all people regardless of any other status, while the Palermo Protocols of 2000 and Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, establishes mandates against all forms of trafficking in persons. All these provisions are supported by procedural and institutional frameworks such as the African Commission, and the African Court of Human and Peoples Rights as well as special procedures such as special rapporteurs and different committees. These moves have been complemented over the past 30 years with the adoption by many African countries of very progressive constitutions with dedicated bills of rights."

In light of these legal frameworks, the title of your research sounds rather disheartening. Are these problems of human rights violation in Africa truly “intractable”?
"On the one hand, the intersectionality element of the problems is what makes them intractable. Each of these human rights problems has multiple layers of compounding factors that make them hard to deal with in their own right. On the other hand, legal solutions have been suggested and implemented through the rich legal systems of the continent as well as at the domestic level. Despite this, the problems still manifest. Our project has pulled together a cross-section of experts from different fields to learn from each other and think together from multiple angles. It is envisioned that from such a team, we should be able to speak multiple languages and have a helicopter view of the problems to find workable solutions. So, in itself, the project is a source of hope that some solutions will be found through the contribution of knowledge that the project envisions bringing at the end of the four years."

Which specific questions are you tackling in your project and how are you conducting your research?
"Intractable problems of human rights is a 48-months-project that is funded by the Cluster of Excellence, is implemented at the Chair of African Legal Studies at the University of Bayreuth and conducted in collaboration with the University of Rhodes in South Africa. The project focuses on three intractable problems of human rights, which are child labour, human trafficking, and the protection of LGBTQI+ rights, so defined because of the seeming impossibility to resolve them."

What questions are you specifically investigating?
"This project interrogates the question of why despite the establishment of extensive legal frameworks across Africa, some human rights violations persist with little or no change. Specifically, the project is looking at:

  • What are the key legal characteristics of the intractable problems? What is the status quo of the focus group in terms of human rights violations in specific countries? What are the origins of the disparity between existing legal provisions and the status quo?
  • Which key legal and institutional barriers are impeding the protection? What constraints are preventing responsible institutions from implementing the concerned rights?
  • What are the non-legal determinants for persisting violations of such human rights? What are the existing barriers (e.g. political, cultural, socio-ethical, economic, religious and customary) that prevent the legal framework from human rights spreading its impact?
  • How can legal and non-legal instruments be deployed to tackle these problems to get long-lasting results? What needs to be changed from the existing legal tools to enhance recognition and enforcement?"

That's a big work load. How do they go about it?
"We understand the intersectionality and the complexity of these problems. That is why we are applying a diverse array of methods to explore the gaps that are existing in addressing these problems both individually as well as interconnected problems. We are therefore trying to explore the question through social legal research methods that explore solutions outside the law but dive deep to understand some of the push factors and determinants that make the problems persist in such magnitudes. In trying to address these questions, we are employing methods ranging from desk research, empirical research, grounded theory research as well as comparative research."

Are there preliminary findings that you can tell us about?
"The field research is still in its nascent stages as our PhD candidates have just started. However, our preliminary secondary data validates the earlier assumptions that the laws are there and the legal framework is strong to support addressing the problems. Secondly, the same strength of the legal framework is reflected in all the target countries. These countries have rich domestic legislation against the intractable problems that we are trying to address. We have also validated that the problems are even getting bigger with other emerging issues. For example, as a result of climate change and COVID-19, children are being pushed further into child labour practices besides other compounding factors."

Within the framework of your project you are launching a discussion series on the topic - what can we expect from the upcoming events?
"The series of debates on intractable problems is one way of thinking together with experts across the globe. We are hosting a diverse team of academics, practitioners, activists, and artists from a wide alley of fields. The series will feature these experts and engage them in debates to tease out what they have been doing and what they think might be the solutions to the problems. They will share the best practices both in methods and interventions that have worked in addressing the problems from their field of work. It is further expected that the series will provide a platform for challenging people to think outside the box about these human rights problems and not only through the solutions that have been suggested and proposed by the existing legal frameworks."

  • The discussion series will start on 26.10.2022 and will feature an expert on the topic of "Human Rights Violations in Africa" every week until 30.11.2022. Find out more: Debate series: Everyone’s Human Rights
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