Human Rights and African Communitarian Values

In Jesse Tomalty & Kerri Woods (eds.), Routledge Handbook for the Philosophy of Human Rights. Routledge (forthcoming)

Authors
Thaddeus Metz
University of Pretoria
Abstract
This chapter demonstrates that the African philosophical tradition offers three particularly interesting ways to broaden global thought about human rights, where all three involve an appeal to the value of community in some way. First off, there is in the African tradition a clear theme of skepticism about the normative category of human rights, with some thinkers who prize groups such as clans denying they exist at all and others contending they are of less importance than normally ascribed in the West. Secondly, there is the view, enshrined in the African (‘Banjul’) Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, that there are group rights and not merely rights of individuals. Thirdly, some African thinkers have held that we have a dignity because of our relational features such as our ability to enter into community with others, a view that has implications for human rights differing from those of the view that our dignity inheres in an individualist feature such as our autonomy or rationality. The chapter points out that the first and third positions are at least prima facie incompatible; for if we have a relational dignity respect for which grounds human rights, as per the third approach, then they exist and are probably robust, contra the first. The chapter argues that the grounds for skepticism about human rights found in the African tradition are weak and instead that the relational foundation of human rights that it offers should be taken seriously by a global audience, as should its positing of group rights alongside them.
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