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Reviewing Olaniyan’s Corruption and Human Rights Law in Africa (2)

Posted: Apr 23, 2015 at 1:41 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Dr Robert Wundeh Eno


The potential of human rights law in combatting corruption in Africa, as the title suggests, in Chapter 6, demonstrates that human rights law and mechanisms have the capacity to provide more effective remedies to victims of corruption than the traditional criminal law mechanisms. The longstanding legal principle of ubi jus, ibi remedium gives credence to Olaniyan’s thesis and provides a perfect platform for human rights law as a satisfactory complementary framework to combat corruption.

The effectiveness of the traditional criminal law instruments as the only approach to fighting corruption is put on the spotlight in this book.  Olaniyan does not call for the abandonment of one approach over the other. While identifying the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches, he believes they can and should complement each other.

A clear warning is sent out to the international community when Olaniyan reminds us that “corruption breeds terrorism (and other organized crimes), encourages money laundering (and vice versa), precipitates poverty, undermines the operations of the rule of law, the working of the institutions of governance and, ultimately, leads or contributes to violations of human rights, and as such sufficient political will must be mustered to heed this warning.

Olaniyan also argues that “If Africa is to truly exercise its sovereignty – both political and economic – it must make as its utmost priority the betterment of its peoples without distinction of any kind.”  According to him, “Sovereignty implies conducting an independent foreign and internal policy, building of schools, construction of roads, in brief, all types of activity directed towards the welfare of people. Sovereignty cannot be conceived as the right to kill millions of innocent people. Sovereignty is not a licence for states and senior public officials to commit acts of corruption that imperil human dignity, and with it citizens’ lives and hopes for a better future. Sovereignty should not (and cannot) be invoked to shield perpetrators of corruption from justice or victims from accessing effective remedies. The legal protection of human and peoples’ rights should therefore be the primary aim of the African Union and its member states. Deploying human rights law as a complementary framework to prevent and combat corruption can contribute to continental (and global) efforts to improve both the effectiveness of the regional human rights mechanisms and the instruments against corruption.”

Even so, “the key to success is ensuring global implementation of [anti-corruption] instruments [and human rights law] at the national levels, and establishing effective mechanisms for the international community to enforce collectively the spirit and the letter of national commitments.”

He proposes the establishment of a number of well thought out supra-national institutions to help in the fight against corruption in Africa. The apprehension that can be expressed here is that, with an already cash-strapped African Union, with a proliferation of institutions that are usually poorly funded, the institutions being proposed by Olaniyan will suffer the same fate and rendered them weak, ineffective, manipulated and perhaps, themselves corrupt, bringing us back to Olaniyan to proffer another solution.

This excellent book by Dr. Olaniyan lends itself to be read and reread in order to understand the relationship between corruption, development, the rule of law, governance and human rights. It is only when this relationship is understood and fully established that we can begin to deconstruct, in a constructive way, policies, guidelines, laws and appropriate mechanisms to effectively combat corruption.

The book’s excellent quality is buttressed by the fact that it was thoroughly reviewed by a host of law professors, including 6 anonymous reviewers commissioned by the Oxford University Press.

I am in full agreement with the renowned Professor of International Law and one of America’s best legal brains, Dinah Shelton of the George Washington University Law School when she said of Olaniyan’s book: “His focus is Africa but the valuable lessons he teaches in this comprehensive study can resonate throughout the world. The result is a comprehensive and holistic legal framework for addressing some of the root causes of human rights violations and poverty, not only in Africa, but wherever corruption exists.”

I can’t recommend this book enough. Corruption and human rights law in Africa is a perfect companion for all, but more importantly, for students interested in policy development, university lecturers, government policy makers, human rights and anti corruption advocates, and intergovernmental organizations seeking effective ways of combating corruption (such as the African Union and the United Nations).


• Eno is the Chief Registrar, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Arusha, Tanzania