Ford grant funds study of human rights in Africa

The Law and Religion Program has received a grant of $318,000 from the Ford Foundation to support research and public policy analysis of the legal, religious and human rights aspects of cultural transformation in Africa.

"The project will seek to identify and examine both negative and positive contributions of law and religion to the promotion and realization of a human rights culture in Africa," said Abdullahi An-Na'im, professor of law and principal director for the project. Co-directing the project with An-Na'im will be John Witte Jr., director of the Law and Religion program; and Johan van der Vyver, Cohen Professor of International Law and Human Rights and fellow at The Carter Center.

The project will consist of two phases, said An-Na'im. During a one-year planning phase, project directors will conduct a variety of consultations to identify a team of African and Africanist scholars and activists, who will in turn devise the approach and methodology of the project. During a three-year implementation phase, the project team will undertake a variety of scholarly and activist initiatives, which could include: convening regional or international conferences and seminars; publication of books or articles; and developing policy recommendations, law reform proposals and advocacy strategies for addressing human rights issues.

The planning phase began June 22 in Atlanta with a meeting of U.S.-based Africanists and civil rights scholars and activists. "We seek to identify ways in which the American civil rights movement and other initiatives for social and economic justice in the United States can share and exchange experiences and insights with their African counterparts," said An-Na'im. He hopes to involve Atlanta's historically black colleges and universities, representatives of which were invited to the June consultation.

An-Na'im expects the Atlanta consultation to produce a plan for conducting a second, more structured consultation in Africa in late 1996 or early 1997 that will include scholars and human rights activists from throughout the continent. He also expects the meeting to yield recommendations on major priorities for the project, and to suggest whether a thematic or geographic approach is needed for various types of initiatives.

Issues that will be considered for further study during the planning phase include: the status and rights of women; the status and rights of children; communal and individual property rights; access to land, holy sites and other vital material and cultural resources; cultural identity and self-determination; the status and rights of religious and ethnic minorities; political conflict; and constitutionalism and democratization.

"The tragic unraveling of legal and political order in Algeria, Sudan, Rwanda and Nigeria, and the growing rivalry between and among Muslim, Christian and indigenous religions throughout the continent, make the work of this project all the more urgent and necessary," said An-Na'im. "The human and material cost of failure to act now is mounting."

Because of the project's urgency, An-Na'im expects to forego any large conferences or single concluding publication. "When we have something to say, we will say it as the project progresses," he explained. "We will be looking to work with the media to communicate some of the policy implications that we find."

Within the last year, the Law and Religion Program has received a total of four major program grants totaling more than $1 million, according to Witte.

-- Elaine Justice

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