Accepted paper:

An Ombudsman for Africa? Mauritius and the spread of human rights institutions in 1990s Africa


James Kirby (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

Global connections encouraged the spread of human rights institutions in 1990s Africa. Yet, Mauritius was disruptive in designing an Ombudsman for the developing world. This paper shows how African human rights mechanisms have been informed by global trends emerging in and out of the Indian Ocean.

Paper long abstract:

The 1990s, a decade of profound globalisation, witnessed the spread of human rights mechanisms across Africa and the Global South. The human rights ombudsman was a signature institution of the period. Mauritius, an island that self-identifies as an African and Indian Ocean state, played a foundational role in designing an Ombudsman fit for the developing world. The country's constitutional development leading up to independence in 1968 was influenced by its global connections, featuring the United Nations and the International Commission of Jurists. However, Mauritius was disruptive in pursuing its own Ombudsman when only a few developed countries, outside of Scandinavia, began experimenting with the idea. Mauritius' party politics was deeply divided on ethnic lines. The Ombudsman, proposed as early as 1960, emerged as an attractive solution for solving the problem of maintaining social harmony in a multi-racial society. Mauritius' politicians not only reimagined this foreign institution for the island's internal conditions, they paved the way for similar bodies in post-colonial Africa. This paper underscores a pivotal, but previously unexplored, connection between the Indian Ocean and mainland Africa in the diffusion of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) during the 1990s. Based on research collected at The National Archives in London and official government reports from Mauritius, the paper challenges scholarly narratives that interpret human rights developments in Africa as overly dependent on external powers and networks. It contributes to a new wave of literature that spotlights the role of African actors in the development of international human rights norms and law.

panel His10
From global history to globalization: connections and disruptions in the African Indian Ocean [CRG Africa in the Indian Ocean]