Center Staff Teams with Boston University Professor to Promote Human Rights Awareness in Africa

From May 15 to 19, 2006, Associate Director Leigh Swigart, along with Professor John Hutchison of Boston University, attended the 39th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in Banjul, The Gambia. The purpose of the trip was to formally propose to the assembled commissioners a project that would be carried out collaboratively by the Center, the West African Research Center in Dakar, Senegal, and the Commission itself.

The project is entitled Know Your Rights! Promoting the Knowledge of Rights through African Languages. It aims to create and disseminate critical information on human and peoples' rights in selected West African languages, thereby making this critical information available to those who otherwise would not have access to it. This category includes people who have had limited access to formal education, women, rural populations, and other marginalized groups. The principal informational sources to be used are the legal instruments of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

The project has five principal activities:

  1. To inventory, collect, and digitize existing African language materials in the region pertaining to rights, democracy, and citizenship (e.g. national constitutions and human rights declarations)
  2. To identify strategic target languages in the 18 countries of the West African region, focusing on those with a large speaker base (e.g. Igbo, Moore) or trans-border status (e.g. Fulfude, Hausa)
  3. To develop a lexicon of key human and peoples' rights concepts, drawn from the Commission's legal instruments, which will guide the ensuing translation process
  4. To translate the legal instruments of the African Commission into the target languages, and then to digitize, catalogue, and upload them to the web; and
  5. To carry out a publicity campaign about the existence of these new materials and to pilot dissemination programs in selected countries, with an emphasis on radio broadcasting and other oral media. Once these activities have been carried out in West Africa, they can be replicated in other regions on the continent.

Swigart and Hutchison had the opportunity to meet with commissioners who had previously attended various Center events, including the Brandeis Institute for International Judges: Musa Bitaye (The Gambia), Reine Alapini Gansou (Benin), Angela Melo (Mozambique), Sanji Monageng (Botswana), Bahame Nyanduga (Tanzania), and Mohamed Kamel Rezag-Bara (Algeria). Know Your Rights! was enthusiastically received by the African Commission and work will begin once sufficient funding is procured.