New Book is First Study of Strategies Used By NGOS to Protect Human Rights In Africa

Release Date: November 17, 1995 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Political scientist Claude E. Welch, Jr. has completed the first major comparative study of how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have wrought a revolutionary change in Africa by uncovering human-rights abuses and advocating for reform.

Welch’s book "Protecting Human Rights in Africa: Strategies and Roles of Non-Governmental Organizations," is the result of nearly three decades of study that began during his undergraduate years. It was published this month by the University of Pennsylvania Press as part of its Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights series.

In it, Welch, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University at Buffalo, analyzes many of the human-rights issues confronting sub-Saharan Africa in the era of ascendant nationalism and rapid de-colonization that followed 70 years of European rule that "balkanized" the African continent.

Welch, co-director of the UB Human Rights Center, is very widely published in the field of African human rights, and here focuses on the role of NGOs in promoting constructive change, often in the face of strong governmental opposition.

"Human rights are not given, but taken," he says.

"In a world in which political repression and economic deprivation are widespread, citizens must organize to protect their rights. And it has been through the rapid spread of NGOs like Amnesty International that major progress has been made."

Welch's study is differentiated from others in the field by its non-state-centered approach. Instead of looking at variations in governmental policy and practice, he uses a grassroots-up method to compare and assess how NGOs in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Namibia and Senegal have dealt with such problems as genital mutilation, systematic discrimination against ethnic groups and authoritarian rule, wide-spread impoverishment and the absence of legal assistance for vast populations.

The organizations he selected for assessment are those that exemplify major strategies in confronting these issues.

Other problematic issues discussed in the book are self-determination, civil and political rights -- including the relative legitimacy of governments throughout Africa --military involvement in African politics and the unfulfilled basic needs of populations that the author says "cried out" for economic and social development.

Welch says that NGOs are especially important in ensuring human rights in sub-Saharan Africa, where governments have often proven reluctant to honor the rights guaranteed by United Nations treaties, national constitutions or presidential speeches.

"By examining what NGOs have accomplished and the challenges that confront them," says Welch, "people all over the globe can be inspired by their accomplishments."

Welch has spent more than 30 years in a quest to understand and present to others informed, sympathetic analysis of the vast changes taking place south of the Sahara. He studied Namibia under United Nations auspices, and his doctoral studies included extensive field work in French-speaking West Africa. This study, conducted in 1993-94, was funded by grants from the Fulbright Commission and the U.S. Institute of Peace.

His publications, many of which address human-rights issues in Africa, include 12 earlier books on human rights, several dozen book chapters and more than a score of articles in refereed journals. He has delivered invited lectures on human-rights practice in relation to theory, ethnic violence, the status of refugees and civil-military relations at major universities and armed-forces institutions throughout the U.S., Africa and Asia.

Welch, former editor of the quarterly journal Armed Forces & Society, prepared 20 entries on the armed forces and society for the "International Military and Defense Encyclopedia" published by Pergamon-Brassey in 1993. He is a member of the advisory board of the Encyclopedia Americana and is a member of the editorial review board of Human Rights Quarterly.

Welch sits on the national advisory committee of Human Rights Watch/Africa and is a consultant to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Academy of Sciences, the Ford Foundation Program on Human Rights, the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace and the Asia Foundation, among others.

He has participated in USAID programs in Burundi and Benin focused on democratization in Africa. Additional overseas travel or research has taken him to Cameroon, Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Kenya, South Africa, Togo, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, China, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and several European nations.

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