Radio Silence

Hey there. Howzit?

So we’ve had a bit of radio silence here on the blog, relatively speaking. Apologies for that. (Or, for some of you, you’re welcome.)

It’s been a bit busy around here lately and there are a number of updates in the hopper, but their reporting may be delayed and you’ll just have to wait for them to trickle out over the next couple of weeks.

Here’s the deal:

This week I am participating in a course on human rights law in Africa as part of my involvement with the Centre for Human Rights. While it’s fun to be back in the classroom, it’s my first time trying to keep up with professionals trained in international law, so right now I am treading water.

Besides gaining a better foundation in human rights principles as applied to Africa (and as developed within Africa), I am fortunate to be among lawyers and NGO staff from South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Turkey, Sweden, Italy, France, Germany, Hungary and Denmark (by way of the UN in New York). I am the only Evil American, so I enjoy being the target of criticisms re: US refusal to participate in the International Criminal Court or to ratify conventions aimed at eliminating discrimination against women (CEDAW) or to promote the rights of children (CRC).

Tomorrow morning we have a miniature moot court exercise concerning a quasi-hypothetical case of human rights violations in Zimbabwe. I am on a team representing the complainants, 50 women who attest to being sexually assaulted because they are members of an opposition political party. It will require more than even my hundreds of hours of watching Law & Order can provide.

Among the many, many interesting discussions, which have thus far ranged from human needs vs. human rights to polygamy to so-called “sexual cleansing”, is the debate regarding whether there is such a thing as “universal human rights.” The basis for most international human rights law evolved from western ideologies (Locke, Hobbes, Kant, Hume, Rousseau, Montesquieu, et al.). Where/How do African cultures and traditions (Ubuntu) fit? A fascinating set of questions.


As time permits, I will churn out updates on my visit to the school, library and crèche in Ivory Park and some important work being done there (including ways you can help the kids!), as well as on the tens of thousands of Jacaranda trees currently blooming in a now purple Pretoria.

In the meantime, tell us what you want to know. What do you want to hear about? Jenny is busy, too (as always), but maybe you can convince her to pony up a few paragraphs…

5 thoughts on “Radio Silence

  1. Fashion, fabrics and more. What class variations are there in clothing? Movies? Are there any theaters that you two have explored? And what about finding venues for music? Symphony, local rock bands? Price of gas and veggies? They are rising again here, what about there?

    Law: Are there women represented in your mock trial?

    • OK, I knew you’d have a bunch of questions…We’ll get there. Eventually.

      Quickly, though, the answer is “yes” on the female representation question. In fact, the class is more women than men. We presented our cases to “Madam Commissioner.”

  2. Thank you for changing my focus from an irresponsible child to Human Rights! Of course I do not know a thing about it. But I filled out a sensus form in pencil this week that asked some pretty personal questions – so maybe my rights have been tested.

    Africa in general does not have sensus as far as I know and western laws do not really apply. So I am curious about a Human Rights Course for Africans most likely provided by foreigners paying with their own money. Some time ago we had the same problem when UNISA wanted to establish a course on African Philosophy.

    I guess that untill you understand tribal rights, you will never understand Afica’s version of human rights (not the published version anyway) and I am still struggling with it. But it seems like you are enjoying it. Everyone wants to hit on America because your tree is standing tall, don’t worry about it because you do not have to be right about the “right” you know.

    • Yes, well you know your irresponsible child has rights, too! South Africa ratified the AU Children’s Charter in 2000, so watch your step…

      As for the census, we were also counted. A team came to our flat and asked the same set of questions to which you allude. They even asked me how many children I have given birth to. I was tempted to say “1” just to see the reaction. Still, I think it is a valuable and important exercise. What would be helpful, as a companion activity, is to conduct some population mapping in relation to services, access to education, health care, food, water, etc. One of our colleagues has some smart ideas about this, actually.

      You’re correct, to a point, about the application of so-called “Western laws.” However, the AU (and OAU before it) accepted most of the UN’s definitions of universal human rights and the majority of African states that are UN members live by these basic minimums. The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights does introduce some concepts related to “traditional values recognised by the community” and other AU instruments refer to African values, but by and large the basis is considered relatively universal.

      The course itself is taught by a diverse group of Africans and non-Africans. Among the Africans are a black Zambian and a white South African. The foreigners are originally from places like Sweden and Canada, but who have lived in SA for decades. I feel like it’s nicely balanced.

      And I will quietly take most criticism leveled at the US. We deserve most of it. Sometimes we just can’t help for trying.

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