This Article explores serious questions that remain about the U.N. role in human rights struggles following the South African elections. Are there structural barriers that prevent the United Nations from acting more rapidly and decisively on human rights matters? What role does the United Nations have in the human rights struggle beyond the mechanics of electoralism and attainment of formal political equality? How can human rights non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”) help the United Nations become more effective in its human rights work? The fifty-year global campaign against state-directed racial oppression in South Africa provides lessons that help answer such questions. This Article is divided into two parts. Part One reviews five decades of the U.N.-centered global campaign for human rights in South Africa. The campaign was built around dismantling apartheid and replacing it with a new political order, legitimized through elections. The review reveals the general inadequacy of the formal United Nations structure and processes and highlights the effectiveness of the international anti-apartheid movement, human rights NGOs who employed U.N. resources to reach across sovereign boundaries and mobilize popular support against apartheid. This Article's evaluation focuses on the enduring nature and comprehensiveness of the global response to apartheid and suggests that the campaign should be used as a standard for judging global responses to other human rights violations. Part Two of this Article identifies the domestic and international aspects of the global campaign against apartheid that can effectively be applied in other human rights struggles. Part Two of the Article critiques the institutional deficiencies of U.N. intervention, which involved little effort to deal with the underlying socio-economic disparities that pervade South Africa. Part Two also explores how the United Nations' lack of influence on international economic matters undermines the efficacy of popular efforts to address vast economic disparities that characterize societies like South Africa. This Article concludes by discussing how human rights NGOs could further the human rights mission of the United Nations by interpreting their work in light of ideas developed in the critique and defense of rights-discourse. In particular, it discusses the promise of the “jurisprudence of reconstruction,” which is committed to both a radical and critical posture toward power even as it seeks to transform power relationships by appealing to ideas like truth and justice.
Ibrahim J. Gassama,
Reaffirming Faith in the Dignity of Each Human Being: The United Nations, NGOs, and Apartheid,
19 Fordham Int'l L.J. 1464
Available at: https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ilj/vol19/iss4/8