Some worry has been expressed in human rights circles that the human rights archetype has for some time now, disproportionately preoccupied itself with the culture of rights and claims at the expense of individuals? duties and responsibilities. A claim is made that while rights are individualistic, self-seeking, unworldly, self-indulgent and anti-social, individual duties and responsibilities are collective, social, humane, nuanced and associated with correct traditional and social behaviour and human values. The language of rights has dominated the texts of bills of rights in constitutions, and international instruments, and many view this rhetoric as unproblematic. Others, however, consider the currency of that language as overlooking, with dire consequences to human society, the concept of duty as the missing link of human dignity. There have, accordingly, been calls for a renewed focus on individual duties and responsibilities in the human rights discourse. The question is whether focussing on individual responsibility is necessary to counterbalance what is viewed by some as a bias towards rights.
Efforts to raise international consciousness of what is regarded as the limitation of a purely rights-based approach to human rights has been spearheaded by, among others, faith based organisations. These have advocated not only a more visible recognition of individual duties and responsibilities generally, but an international declaration of human responsibilities as a ?common standard for all people and all nations.? The calls being made are premised on, first, a view that a device in the form of an international declaration ? a set of international rules ? should be developed to change the current human rights architecture. This code of ethical obligations is necessary to guide and change individual behaviour. Second, a belief that greater emphasis should be laid on individual duty responsibility to supplement existing international human rights norms and standards, and finally, that human rights principles alone are inadequate for modern societies to regulate themselves well.
With particular reference to perspectives from the African Charter based human rights system, this project interrogates these concerns regarding duties with a view to ascertaining whether there is justification in them. Using as a reference point the concept of duties in the African Charter and to a small extent that in the African Children's Charter, which represents the older
and more established part of the African human rights system, the project concludes that although individuals? duties are important and deserve greater attention, there is no convincing case for the calls that are being made in this regard.