Tanzania: Striking Balance Between Human Rights, African Cultural Values

AS the dust is settling after the fourth African Judicial Dialogue that took place at Munyonyo in U ganda recently, legal practitioners begin to look on how to put in practice deliberations of the meeting.

Under the theme,'Tackling Contemporary Human Rights Issues: the Role of the Judiciary in Africa,' the dialogue attracted chief justices from the African U nion (AU ) member states, judges of human right courts and tribunals, selected diplomats and journalists from Africa, America and Europe.

Under the auspices of the AU and in collaboration with the Ugandan government, the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (AfCHPR) organized the dialogue and one of main issues raised, was on how to safeguard human rights and yet strike a balance between African culture, African traditional justice system (TJS) and modern legal system.

The matter was first raised by U gandan President, Y oweri Museveni who said what was needed was a holistic way to address human rights in consideration of African culture, traditional justice system and a modern legal system.

President Museveni cautioned, though, that human rights could only be addressed if challenges in societies were properly solved. We will come back to this a little later hereunder. The U nited Nations (U N) defines human rights as rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.

Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

The African culture is varied and manifold, consisting of a mixture of countries with various tribes with different characteristic. It is a product of the diverse populations that today inhabit the continent and the African Diaspora.

It is expressed in arts and crafts, folklore and religion, clothing, cuisine, music and languages, with large amounts of cultural diversity being found not only across different countries but also within single countries.

While traditional justice system refer to mechanisms that African peoples or communities have applied in managing disputes and conflicts since time immemorial that have been passed on from one generation to the other, modern legal system copied from Europe or Asia and practiced in Africa without ensuring that it goes with the 'heartbeats' of the respective African societies, hence needs to be harmonized.

"The legal system in Africa is merely transplanted from the West and needs to be harmonised. Some people are, for example, against the death penalty but for me, I am for the laws of Moses of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Laws should be aligned to society otherwise some laws may end up being an injustice to the population," said President Museveni. He says there are laws 'imported' to Africa but communities do not adhere to them because they are not used to.

Some things such as bride price, polygamy, marrying from relatives, should be left as they are but people should be involved in shaping them better, he said. Things like homosexuality and same sex marriages which are frowned upon should never be allowed because they are against African culture.

According to him, homosexual acts and relationships are drummed up by certain sponsors into African Law. President Museveni said there were reasons why Africans were marrying each other and that has been manifested on the way they have been able to resist Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV ) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

He attributes the resistance to the strength instilled in Africans who live in a continent that has been so much plagued by the malady, yet the population keeps growing. Back to the 'problems of man'; President Museveni says there are only two fundamental problems of man, to wit, oppression of man by nature and oppression of man by man.

He says human rights can only be attained and sustained if the two are addressed. "Human rights issues have to be addressed in a holistic way by starting addressing the two fundamental problems of man he has faced for thousands of years. Oppression of man by nature such as diseases, drought, floods and oppression of man by man such as slavery, feudalism, fascism and bad governance have to be checked.

"There are other rights that are human and basic-right to shelter, food, sanitation, clothing, decent jobs and livelihoods in general but there are others political-right to assemble, vote and freedom of speech; All these depend capacity of society to deal with the two fundamental problems of man I have illustrated," says the president.

He says the better way to overcome the two is through growing the economy through different strategies be they legal, economic so as to produce crops and tools, create jobs, raise income and have people with good lives.

"There are fundamental human rights. These cannot be addressed legally but by developing the economy to enable the state support citizens. Man has not only been abused by fellow man. He has also been abused by nature and these can only be addressed by development solutions and not by legislations," warns President Museveni.

He wants to see the Continental Court-AfCHPR-as well as national and regional courts in Africa to ensure people's rights and cultures are respected when the respective courts deliver on their mandate. African judges must not only trace the root causes of human rights violations but also respect TJS.

He goes further and calls for states' organs-The Judiciary, Intelligence, Academia and other executives to work together to get rid of tug of war in many jurisdictions that he attributes to bourgeoisie-legal concept instead of being closeraligned to practices of the particular societies.

"All those rights can be addressed through growing the economy and the Judiciary and other state organs and stakeholders should understand that...a holistic way; Legal and economic strategies should be put together. By growing our economies we create jobs, earn people and governments revenue to offer social services," says Mr Museveni.

He notes that while justice must be accessed by all, there are priorities that judiciaries should have in getting rid of case backlogs and should have a strategic eye on which cases to dispose of first and which should wait. He gives an interesting example of two cases-of individuals in court as a result of fighting each other in a bar and another concerning a production factory dispute.

He says court should dispose of the factory's first as it might mean production has stalled hence affecting the economy. Then the court, he says, could come back to the 'drunken' individuals and sort their case later as values differ.

Such is a huge load to be borne by national, regional and the Continental Court-the Pan African Court-the latter with final mandate on matters of human rights. It was established by African countries to ensure the protection of human and peoples' rights. It complements and reinforces the functions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

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