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Four Mechanisms for Safeguarding the Effectiveness of the Human Rights Action Plan: Based on African Experience
November 27,2018   By:CSHRS
Four Mechanisms for Safeguarding the Effectiveness of the Human Rights Action Plan: Based on African Experience
 
XU Yao*
 
Abstract: Since the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, nine African countries have implemented ten human rights action plans. An analysis of the texts and related implementation of these plans reveals that there are four mechanisms that play a key role in improving the effectiveness of the implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, namely, the positioning and focusing mechanism for the country’s core human rights issues, the integration mechanism between the action plans and the countries’ development strategies, domestic economic growth and related resources utilization mechanism, and effective governance of domestic public conflicts and public order guarantee mechanism. Defining and coordinating these mechanisms is of great practical significance for improving the effectiveness of human rights action plans in developing countries.
 
Keywords: Africa   National Human Rights Action Plan   human rights policy
 
The systematic protection and promotion of human rights through the development and implementation of National Human Rights Action Plans is widely recognized worldwide as a form of governance. The World Conference on Human Rights, held in 1993, proposed an initiative to develop National Human Rights Action Plans, and the General Assembly adopted the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action1, which states: “It is recommended that each member state consider whether a national action plan can be developed to identify the steps that the country should take to promote and protect human rights.”
 
From 1993 to 2017, nine African countries formulated and implemented ten National Human Rights Action Plans. Seven of them are the focus of this paper, namely: Malawi’s National Plan of Action in the Field of Human Rights (1995-1996), South Africa’s National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (1998) Nigeria’s National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (2006), and its National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (2009-2013), Tanzania’s National Human Rights Action Plan (2013-2017), Liberia’s National Human Rights Action Plan (2013-2018), and Somalia’s Human Rights Action Plan (2015-2016). In addition, according to the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, National Human Rights Action Plans were developed and implemented by the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2000, and by both the Republic of Cape Verde and Mauritania in 2003, but since they have not been available in English, these three human rights action plans are not included in the scope of this research. By comparing the texts of the seven African National Human Rights Action Plans, this paper summarizes their content and institutional mechanisms taking into account the countries’ presentations in the universal periodic reviews of the UN Human Rights Council and the evaluations of the international community, with reference to changes in the human development index of the countries concerned. The seven human rights action plans, can be boiled down to four mechanisms that play a key role in ensuring their effectiveness: identifying the country’s core human rights issues, the integration mechanism between the action plans and the countries’ development strategies, do-mestic economic growth and the utilization of resources, effective governance of domestic public conflicts and the maintaining of public order. Having these four mecha-nisms do not guarantee that the action plan will achieve the desired results, but if these four mechanisms are missing, serious negative consequences will result.
 
Ⅰ. Positioning and Focusing Mechanism for the Core Human Rights Issues in Targeting Country
 
To achieve the desired effect of human rights policies and planning in a country or society, an awareness of human rights needs to be deeply rooted in the unique historical background and social reality of the country concerned so as to identify the issues that need to be faced and dealt with, and to find the interrelations among and commonalities among various human rights issues. Through the study of the texts and the implementation process for the African countries’ human rights action plans, it can be seen that most of these countries attach importance to their historical backgrounds and social reality, and pay attention to thinking and summarizing the problems they face, and the initiatives that need to be taken.
 
For example, 350 years of colonial rule, apartheid and racial discrimination have caused many of South Africa’s social problems. The text of South Africa’s National Human Rights Action Plan commences with a review of its history of human rights protection and the serious challenges the country faces in safeguarding human rights, which treats eliminating racial discrimination and establishing a fair society as essential for guaranteeing human rights. Judging from the universal periodic review of the UN Human Rights Council, South Africa’s endeavor on making efforts to fight against racial discrimination have been recognized by many countries. Among them, 22 countries including Guinea, Malaysia, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Senegal have taken note of the various initiatives taken by South Africa to overcome racial discrimination. Five countries including Malaysia, Cuba, Botswana, the United Kingdom and Jordan have emphasized South Africa’s role as a model or leader in eliminating racial discrimination. Eight countries including China, Russia, Pakistan, Ghana and Sri Lanka have asked for relevant experience or hope to obtain further information. Four countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mauritania hope that South Africa will pay attention to the racial discrimination that still exists and take measures to solve it.2 It can be seen that South Africa has received very extensive attention and praise in the United Nations for its efforts to eliminate racial discrimination, which has played a very important role in improving the country’s human rights image.
 
In another example, the biggest obstacle to human rights protection in Somalia has been the turbulent political situation in the country and the fragile security situation caused by terrorism. The terrorist attacks on government officials, human rights defenders and civilians have resulted in a sustained collective social panic; changing this environment has become a top priority for the government.3 Based on a comprehensive assessment of the domestic situation, four priority areas have been identified: the establishment of an independent national human rights commission; the Ministry of Women, Human Rights and Social Development carrying out human rights building; the protection of vulnerable groups and civilians; and compliance with international humanitarianism law.4
 
Unlike some developed countries whose National Human Rights Action Plans focus on one aspect or just a few aspects, African countries’ human rights action plans often include many issues and their solutions, as there may be many core issues that need responding to. Clarifying the core issues is important for African countries to effectively develop and implement their national human rights plans. This is because (1) the human rights issues in African countries are complicated and intertwined. In addition, many African countries have a weak social foundation, limited resources and fragile social order. If it is impossible to concentrate limited resources to a certain extent, it will be difficult to achieve realistic results. In this sense, this focus mechanism plays the role of concentrating and pooling resources, and this process is also a key point for African governments to further sort out various human rights issues. (2) With the existence of many human rights issues, many aspects of the human rights situation need to be improved, but some particularly serious violations of human rights may cause more concern, and it is easy to cause more serious harm to the parties concerned – those situations need of change in due course. The most outstanding being the ter-rorist attacks of Al-Shabaab still endangering the lives of the people while Somalia was formulating its action plan. Also, women’s circumcision remains a prevalent practice in countries such as Tanzania, Liberia, and Nigeria as they have been developing their action plans. This traditional practice does structural, long-term harm to women’s rights, and it is the least understandable to the international community. Also in Tan-zania, there are situations in which albino babies are regarded as abnormal and killed. And in many African countries, AIDS is a serious problem. These are all phenomena that need to be urgently changed.
 
Ⅱ. Integration Mechanism Between Action Plans and Other Development Strategies
 
Without exception, African countries face enormous economic and social development pressure. Some countries have suffered violent conflict when formulating and seeking to implement their human rights action plans, while others need to eliminate the consequences of serious human rights violations caused by large-scale conflicts as the most important elements of their human rights action plans. So as to advance the cause of human rights on the basis of complex historical issues, fragile political orders, backward social economies, and diverse demands from both religious and religion, it is necessary to integrate human rights goals with other economic and social development goals and coordinate with other development plans, and then achieve the desired results. In this case, it is difficult to specifically state whether changes in a the human rights situation are caused by the National Human Rights Action Plans, as other development plans may also be effective in improving a country’s human rights situation. On the other hand, only human rights action plans that are mutually supportive of other plans can be effective human rights action plans.
 
For example, Tanzania places great emphasis on the coherence and integration of human rights action plans with other development plans, emphasizing that the National Human Rights Action Plan strengthen the existing human rights-based approaches in existing national policies and strategies, including Tanzania’s National Develop-ment and Poverty Reduction Strategy (MKUKUTA). Zanzibar Island Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (MKUZA), Millennium Development Goals, 2025 Vision, Five-Year Development Plan (2011/12-2015/16), and existing action plans of other ministries and agencies.5 It has emphasized that its National Human Rights Action Plan should not be seen as a plan that is independent of other countries’ development plans. In the process of developing the National Human Rights Action Plan, the coordinating committee has taken into account national development goals, policy objectives, procedures and specific interventions that are directly or indirectly related to human rights.6 This approach has two positive effects: on the one hand, to avoid a separate set of human rights and to be isolated, ensuring that the objectives of human rights are reflected in relevant development concepts and plans; on the other hand, it can focus civil servants’ attention on human rights to a considerable extent, and integrate human rights values into the daily administrative management and public policy formulation and implementation process.
 
In addition, while Liberia was implementing its National Human Rights Action Plan, it was also conducting or implementing a number of national strategies or policies such as the National Roadmap for Reducing Trauma, Maintaining Peace and Reconciliation, Anti-Trafficking Program, National Vision: The Rise of Liberia in 2030, and its Transformation Plan. These different plans, and visions are mutually inclusive, and some intersect with each other to form a public policy system in Liberia. At this time, it is necessary to match the content of the human rights action plan, the implementation rhythm, and the evaluation method with related plans, so as to avoid conflicts or mutual resistance between policies.
 
In another example, in the human rights road map of Somalia, various specific rights promotion plans and “peace and national construction goals” are matched to each other, so as to avoid contradictions or constraints among the administrative contents, which is very necessary for a turbulent and unpredictable social environment.
 
If the plans can be integrated together, there are at least three positive effects: (1) Reduce goal conflicts between and within relevant departments. In the case of limited resources, if there is a conflict between different goals, you can only choose to achieve some of them. If a National Human Rights Action Plan can be well aligned with other national plans, it will reduce the possibility of conflict between the plans, and it can also avoid the potential ills of self-speaking and ineffective influence on other sectors brought by the human rights plan and departments tasked with development. (2) Reduce administrative costs in data statistics, inspection and evaluation. The implementation of each plan and each policy will inevitably require a corresponding inspection promotion mechanism and evaluation system. It is conceivable that if the human rights action plan can be integrated with other policies in time nodes, policy objectives, and related mechanisms, it can reduce the cost of many inspections, statistics, and assessments, and can evaluate the effectiveness of related behaviors and assess the problems more comprehensively and systematically. (3) Enhance the penetration effect of human rights awareness and optimize the effect of the policy as a whole. Human rights are not a separate policy area, but an all-encompassing integrated system, almost related to all public administration and public service behavior of the government, as well as the legislative actions of all legislatures. The human rights action plan, in coordination with other national policies and plans, makes it easier to spread the awareness of respecting and protecting human rights into the relevant government departments and civil servants, thereby strengthening the concept of respecting and safeguarding human rights in all aspects of legislation, policy and related implementation.
 
Ⅲ. Domestic Economic Growth and Related Resources Mining and Utilization Mechanism
 
The human rights action plan must be based on the country’s economic and social development environment. In terms of dependence on the economic and social environment, African countries have performed very well. For example, in Malawi, which lags behind economically, many human rights actions or commitments cannot be realized due to a lack of funds. People’s rights to education and health cannot be effectively guaranteed, and many human rights-related institutions face operational challenges because of their lack of funds.7 In Tanzania, “economic constraints” con-stitute an obstacle to the implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan and the writing of national human rights reports that can be submitted to treaty bodies on time. 8
 
The implementation of an action plan requires sufficient resources, and the lack of support can easily make the plans become castles in the air. It is explicitly mentioned in the National Human Rights Action Plan Guidelines prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that “the success of a plan will depend to a large extent on the resources that support its activities”, “The supply of reasonable resources demonstrates the government’s respect for the plan and its commitment to human rights. Failure to provide reasonable resources will raise ques-tions about the seriousness of the government and the credibility of the plan.”9
 
The implementation and development of National Human Rights Action Plans involves a lot of money: First, there is the overall costs, including pre-planning research, collection of various opinions, planning, program promotion and running, program supervision, and overall evaluation. Such expenses are focused on the overall situation and need priority protection; otherwise they will seriously hinder the effective implementation of the plan. The second category is the implementation costs of specific projects, including the cost of specific activities to achieve specific goals in each area. This part of the costs should be combined with the annual budget of the various government departments. This requires government departments to truly integrate their internal resources into the nation human rights action plans and appropriately tilt these resources toward human rights-related activities.
 
Compared with countries in other regions of the world, African countries generally have obvious disadvantages in the development stage and available resources. Whether it is possible to mobilize sufficient resources in the country, whether it can effectively use the relevant resources, experience and technology of the United Nations and the international community to serve the country and achieve local transformation of international experience, are very important for the formulation and implementation of human rights action plans.
 
The use of international resources has obvious advantages in alleviating the shortage of resources prevalent in African countries. The United Nations and many international organizations have strong incentives to support human rights development in Africa. For example, some human rights projects in Tanzania receive financial and technical assistance from the international community, including the National Human Rights Action Plan, the Project to Reduce Maternal and Infant Mortality, the Programme for Increasing Access to Education, and the reporting to the Human Rights Mechanism and the Universal Periodic Review.10 These can provide technical, empirical and financial support for the development and implementation of African National Human Rights Action Plans. In the universal periodic review of African countries, there are also countries that continue to provide more international assistance to rele-vant countries or projects.
 
At the same time, however, it is also necessary to note the negative consequences of relying on external resources. This is mainly manifested in a dependence on foreign funds and inability to independently promote a certain policy or goal. Once the external funds are unsustainable, the relevant policies of the country cannot be effectively continued. For example, in Malawi’s participation in the second round of the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations, the joint report of the stakeholders suggested that Malawi’s HIV and AIDS response could not be sustained over the long term because more than 90 percent of the funding came from foreign donors.11
 
While striving for and utilizing international resources, the successful implementation of human rights action plans is more about mobilizing and integrating domestic resources. This requires governments to strengthen resource coordination and supply in the following aspects. First, the need to implement a human rights action plan is to form a basic consensus across the country, thus providing the basis for the integration and allocation of resources. Second, the budget for related projects should be put in place. Some countries only generalize what plans to implement, but financial support is vague or missing, and plans that lack resource security tend to be limited. Third, most African countries have many shortcomings in the effectiveness of government operations. Corruption is also a big problem. Therefore, in the implementation of the human rights action plans, not only must more resources be mobilized, but also we must prevent corruption in the use of resources and prevent insufficient resources from being used.
 
Ⅳ. Domestic Effective Governance of Public Conflicts and the Guarantee Mechanism of Public Order
 
The National Human Rights Action Plans may have been formulated and imple-mented in a peaceful environment, or may have been formulated and implemented after the end of a war or civil unrest. However, regardless of the historical background before the plan is formulated, the effective implementation of the plan itself requires a relatively stable politic and social environment. The underlying reason is that behaviors, projects, and resource inputs require continuity, and if major challenges to social order exist during the implementation of the plans, the plans may not be able to follow the intended path due to significant disruptive factors. Among the African countries studied in this paper, the socio-political environment of some countries faces serious challenges.
 
For example, in 2000, the Democratic Republic of the Congo developed and implemented a National Human Rights Action Plan, but it has come amid continued wars due to ethnic conflicts in eastern region of the country and the competition for resources by different countries and forces. From October 1996 to May 1997, there was a state of war. From May 1997 to July 1998, the state experienced a brief peace. From August 1998 to April 2003, the war continued for nearly five years during which several African countries including Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia were involved. It also involved 25 armed factions. It became an unprec-edented regional war in African history, resulting in nearly 5.4 million deaths and countless displaced people.12 In this context, the implementation effects of the action plan will naturally be greatly reduced.
 
Likewise in Somalia when it was implementing its human rights action plan, the National Army was still engaged in protracted land battles and tug-of-war with the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. Peacekeeping forces cannot support the reconstruction of Somalia’s country, and even cannot guarantee their own security. Under this circumstance, the reconstruction of political order in the country will be a difficult task.13
 
Also, Mauritania enacted a human rights action plan in 2003. In 2005, the head of the National Security Agency, Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, and the commander of the General Guard, Abdel Aziz launched a bloodless coup against the autocratic dictatorship of the Taya regime when their President Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya went to Saudi Arabia to attend the funeral of the king, and took over political power by establishing the Military Committee for Justice and Democracy.
 
An unstable social environment can have a very serious impact on the implementation of a National Human Rights Action Plan. Typical situations include: the absence of the main body of the plan; the serious shortage of resources for the implementation of the plan; or security issues becoming the dominant issue for society. In such circumstances, the plans can lead to mutual vendettas between different forces, making values such as tolerance, understanding and humanitarianism a distant luxury.
 
A safe and stable social environment relies on mutually recognized governance mechanisms, which require both a tolerant cultural shaping and an effective conflict management body playing a central role. For example, South Africa established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to resolve inter-ethnic hatred under the new framework of “victims” and “responsible persons”, diluting the original framework of interpretation based on inter-ethnic conflicts, thereby enabling the long-standing his-torical conflicts to better resolve.
 
Ⅴ. Conclusion
 
The above four mechanisms have structural intrinsic correlations and must be considered together.
 
First, the positioning and focusing mechanism of a country’s core human rights issues is to answer the question of what the human rights action plan is “doing”. This is where the “target” lies. Without an accurate and clear “target system”, the entire policy behavior will be lost, determination of goals therefore depends on the accurate reflection of social reality and the precise grasp of the public’s psychology. Second, the integration mechanism of action plans and other development strategies is to ad-dress the relationship between “human rights guarantees” and other national development goals. In many specific and competitive target systems, “human rights” are easily overlooked and can easily be considered “luxury” or “unrealistic” goals. This requires an accurate definition of the status and role of “human rights” in the entire national policy system. It is necessary to accurately and comprehensively infiltrate the objectives of human rights in other economic and social development plans. This is the key to the “marginalization” of “human rights” without being marginalized by other policies. Third, the country’s economic growth and the exploitation and utilization of related resources are to solve the problem of “what it takes” to achieve the planned goals. As a Chinese proverb says “You can’t make something out of nothing”. In this regard, sufficient resources and accurate and high-quality use of resources is the key to ensuring that human rights plan is effective. Fourth, governance of social conflicts and a guarantee mechanism for public order are the key to ensuring an environment conducive to implementing a human rights action plan. If there is a lack of basic public order, the realization of other human rights goals will become a castle in the air. In sum, despite securing a society in a basic order, goals set up in human rights actions plan will not necessarily be achieved; however, if lacking public order, human rights protection aims will lack its priority as to recover the entire social order will become the first thing to achieve.
 
Up to now, from the website of the Office of the United Nations High Com-missioner for Human Rights and the universal periodic review of the Human Rights Council, at least 38 countries around the world have formulated 55 National Human Rights Action Plans. Among those countries, 27 countries are in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and have drawn up 41 action plans, which account 71% in the number of countries which formulated human rights action plans and 74.5% in the number of entire human rights action plans. Most of these developing countries face enormous economic development pressure and diverse human rights issues, and some are challenged by unstable political environments. In order to formulate and implement human rights action plans amid this situation, we should consider the above issues in an integrated manner so as to ensure the effectiveness of the plans.
 
* Xu Yao ( 许尧 ), associate Research Fellow and ph.d. in Management of Nankai University Human Rights Research Center (National Human Rights Education and Training base), Zhou Enlai Government School of Management, Nankai University. This article is a phased outcome of the National Human Rights Education and Training base Major project “Comparative Study of National Human Rights Action plans” (project No. 13JJd820022).
 
1. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted at world Human Rights Conference in Vienna on June 25, 1993. Hu Zhiqiang, China International Human Rights Convention, (beijing: China Foreign Translation publishing Company, 2004), 294.
 
2. Report of the working Group on the Universal periodic Review, the eighth session of the Human Rights Council, 23 May 2008, A/HRC/8/32. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, accessed October 27, 2017. https://documents- dds-ny.un.oig/doc/UNdOC/GEN/G08/136/95/pdF/ G0813695.pdf?OpenElement.
 
3. National Report submitted in accordance with paragraph 5 of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 16/21 – Somalia, Human Rights Council, universal periodic review of the twenty-fourth session of the work-ing Group, 18-29 January 2016, A/ HRC/wG. 6/24/SOM/1, 13.
 
4. Report of the working Group on the Universal periodic Review - Somalia, universal periodic review of the thirty-second session of the Human Rights Council, 13 April 2016, A/HRC/32/12, 4.
 
5. United Republic of Tanzania National Human Rights Action plan (2013-2017), preface.
 
6. United Republic of Tanzania National Human Rights Action plan (2013-2017), 7-8.
 
7. For details, please refer to the summary compiled by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 15 (c) of the annex to resolution 5/1 of the Human Rights Council and paragraph 5 of the annex to Council resolution 16/21—Malawi. Report by the relevant party, the twenty-second session of the working Group on the Universal periodic Review of the Human Rights Council, 4-15 May 2015, A/ HRC/wG. 6/22/MwI/3
 
8. National Report submitted by the Human Rights Council in paragraph 5 of the annex to resolution 16/21, United Republic of Tanzania, Human Rights Council, universal periodic review of the twenty-fifth session of the working Group, 2–13 May 2016, A /HRC/wG.6/25/TZA/1, 16.
 
9. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Handbook on National Human Rights Plans of Action, 100, accessed on March 10, 2018, http://www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/traininglO-en. pdf
 
10. “National Report of the United Republic of Tanzania, submitted pursuant to paragraph 5 of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 16/21”, the twenty-fifth session of the working Group on the Universal periodic Review of the Human Rights Council, 2–13 May 2016 , A/HRC/wG.6/25/TZA/1, 14.
 
11. The United Nations Office of the Human Rights Commissioner’s Office, in accordance with paragraph 15 (c) of the annex to resolution 5/1 of the Human Rights Council and paragraph 5 of the annex to Council resolution 16/21, -Malawi, stakeholder report, the twenty-second session of the working Group on the Universal periodic Review of the Human Rights Council, 4-15 May 2015, A/HRC/wG.6/22/Mw3, 9.
 
12. wang Feng, “the democratic Republic of the Congo Civil war Research (1996-2003)” (Master’s thesis, Shanghai Normal University, 2011).
 
13. xiao yuhua and xie Mingmi, Annual Report on the Political Development of the Horn of Africa (2015 - 2016), published on African Regional Development Report (2015 - 2016), ed. Liu Hongwu (beijing: China Social Sciences press, 2017), 66.
 
(Translated by YU Nan)
 
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