Oval slides in triangular spaces? Anchoring national human rights institutions in ‘tripartite’ Commonwealth Africa

Ambani, John Osogo
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University of Pretoria
"Montesquieu, in L'Esprit des Lois, 1748, divided the functions of state into: the legislative power, the executive power, and the power of judging. Indeed, three constitutional organs have invariably dominated state power. These are: the executive, the leigslative and the judiciary. According to Montesquieu, the state is said to be at 'equilibrium' when the three organs are independent of each other, with each carrying out its functions without interference. Ideally, the legislative organ ought to make laws, the executive to implement them, and the judiciary to adjudicate over disputes arising out of the day-to-day operations of the state. This attempt at dispersing state power is not arbitrary. It has got ends. One cardinal end in this regrad is the protection of fundamental human rights. It has been argued that where the three organs of state are allowed operatational autonomy, individuals stand to enjoy relatively profound liberty. Where state functions are entrusted with one person or organ, the tyranny of that person or organ is certain to overwhelm the realisation of fundamental freedoms and liberties. ... Both Montesquieu and Lock had tremendous faith in the tripartite government structure in so far as the protection of liberties was concerned. Informed by this philosophy, most democratic constitutions have weaved state power in almost similar terms envisioned by Montesquieu. Thus far, the 1787 Constitution of the United States of America (USA) could be ranked as one with the clearest distinction of state functions. Contemporary practice, however, appears to be in favour of complementing these traditional state organs, a sign, perhaps, that the conventional three organs of state per se have increasingly proved inadequate; at least in the sphere of human rights protection. There is a move, or rather, wave towards the establishment of independent national human rights institutions (NHRIs) to reinforce the bulwark of human rights protection mechanisms at state level, and the wave, arguably, is most pronounced in Africa. ... The current investigation will be completed in four distinct chapters. The current chapter serves well to introduce the study. The second chapter constitutes a comprehensive study of the conceptual foundations of national human rights institutions (NHRIs). The essence, structure and nature of NHRIs is also explored. The third chapter proposes to analyse the doctrine of separation of powers from a philosophical and later, from a practical point of view as it manifests itself in the Commonwealth tradition. The tripartite government configuration is discussed with the ramification of NHRIs in mind. It is instructive that without assessing the parent concept (the rule of law) a discussion on separation of powers remains orphaned. The fourth chapter shall first allude to the new challenges to human rights enforcement. It shall then discuss how these challenges and the development of NHRIs cry for a new thinking on the original tripartite system. The final section is an attempt at supplying a panacea to the challenges accentuated by the preceding part."
Human rights, Africa