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Second and Third Generation Rights in Africa


In policy and legal circles, human rights and human well-being are often referred to as "universal" concepts.  The human rights outlined in the 1946 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) have been viewed as the embodiment of fundamental international standards for human well-being.  The UDHR principles start with the absence of cruel punishment and freedom from torture, but move on to other rights like freedom of movement, right to marriage, property ownership, freedom of religion, and right to education. Human rights have since been described in terms of "generations," each subsequent generation extending human rights into more and more arenas of human activity and experience.

First generation rights include civil and political rights such as free speech and conscience and freedom from torture and arbitrary detention.  In other words, first generation human rights command governments to stand back from the citizen; they are "non-derogable," meaning that they establish bright line rules about which governments have no discretion.  Second generation rights are social, economic and cultural and include the rights to reasonable levels of education, healthcare, and housing and minority language rights.  Second generation rights require governments to take affirmative action; they are incremental and discretionary because they have a direct financial bearing upon the provision of government services.  Most recently third generation rights have shifted focus from the individual person (first generation rights) and the communities in which they live (social, economic and cultural rights) to the natural world, such as the right to a clean and healthy environment, and the right to species biodiversity.

The workshop

Building on the foundation of 2009-10 workshop, the 2010-11 interdisciplinary research workshop will extend the examination of human rights discourse and institutions in Africa to broader questions around second and third generation rights. The workshop will canvas human rights insights from a broad sweep of disciplinary expertise, such as history, science, engineering anthropology, sociology, philosophy, law and political science. The goal of the workshop is to broaden human rights scholarship beyond single disciplinary domains.

Because the field of second and third generation human rights is broad, we have narrowed the discussion topics to the most urgent ones that are well suited to interdisciplinary analysis by anticipated workshop participants. Initial sessions will lay the foundation for the generational framework of human rights in Africa and the recent progression beyond civil and political rights. The workshop will proceed to discuss a wide range of the most significant and timely second and third generation human rights challenges in Africa. These include:

  • maternal health: African women who die during pregnancy and childbirth are the poorest and most marginalized in African society. Typically, these women marry in their early teens, have no access to healthcare, and exercise little or no choice about the decision to become pregnant. In most cases, maternal deaths could be prevented.
  • childhood poverty: African children are more likely than children in the rest of the world to grow up malnourished, without an education, and affected by conflict and HIV/AID. One in six African children die before the age of five. The majority of these deaths are preventable.
  • education of girls: sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest rate of enrollment for girls the in the world. Beyond that, the enrollment rate among primary-school-aged girls is 8 percent lower than that of boys, according to UNICEF. And of those girls who do enroll, 9 percent more of them drop out before the end of the sixth grade than boys.
  • cultural heritage: colonialism and Western-style laws and practices have superimposed a layer of prohibitions and sanctions upon African buildings, monuments, language, religion, and social practices that articulate and preserve cultural identity. The notion of "heritage" is used to both to unite and divide African communities depending upon who defines cultural heritage and who controls the stewardship and the benefits of cultural heritage.
  • environmental rights: Africa is struggling with extensive ecosystem decline, including desertification, water shortages, deforestation, and diminishing species diversity slopes. There has been little appreciation of the need to merge the human rights agenda and the environmental agenda. As a result, victims of environmental degradation are unprotected by the laws and mechanisms established to address human rights abuses.

Using these issues as the starting point, Second and Third Generation Human Rights in Africa with undertake a broad and interdisciplinary analysis through readings, occasional outside speakers, and faculty and student provocations.