Human rights law and the cultural barriers in Islamic states

An overview of the Islamic state’s capacity to adopt the current human rights norms – the author holds that the globalization of human rights remains ineffective in transcending cultural barriers. Only when the philosophical ideology is translated into different cultures, as opposed to a more positivist approach, can the gap between globalized human rights and different nations be further mitigated. 


By Shafeea Riza, 8th February 2014

In an increasingly globalising world, where international human rights law plays a dominating role in global politics, one cannot help but wonder whether globalisation of human rights law effectively translates into the domestic realms of the receiving state. I ask this question in relation to Islamic states. Islamic states have responded to the international human rights law norms in different ways. Despite the “universal” aspect of these human rights, and its somewhat adoption by Islamic states, what transpires foremost is the tension between these rights and Islamic traditions.[1] Although there is general consensus of the international human rights law among Islamic states, insistence on holding on to Islamic values appear to be pre-dominant.[2] Such an observation begs the question asked at the beginning of this paper: whether globalisation of human rights truly transcends cultural barriers?

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Photo Essay: 6 Reasons Why Terror is Gaining Momentum in Northern Nigeria

Looking for a Future

The state of Nigeria is facing its largest crisis in over a decade.  As the ferocity and popularity of the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram rises, the very unity of the state is being challenged. This collection of photos assesses the reasons why the group is becoming increasingly attractive to the disaffected population in the north despite their gruesome tactics.

For more on Boko Haram see ‘The State of Terrorism in Nigeria’


By Jack Hamilton, 14 Dec 2011

1. The Lost Generation

The 'Lost' Generation

Northern Nigeria is a youthful place. Having maintained a high birth rate for decades, over half of the population is now under the age of 30. The average fertility rate in Nigeria is 5.7. In the northern states it is 7.3. This demographic shift has arrived at a time in which unemployment is rife and the perception of victimisation by the federal government is strengthening. There is now a generation of young, unemployed northern Nigerians who feel alienated from the central government and see flagrant displays of wealth in Nollywood films depicting the southern cities of Lagos and Port Harcourt. This sentiment of marginalisation has been utilised effectively in the propaganda of Boko Haram.


2. Religion

A Sign of the Times

The use of religion as a political tool goes back to the pre-colonial era of Nigerian history.  Now a democratic state, in theory one religion should not take precedence over another (a notion enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution).  Despite this, religious disputes consume much of Nigeria  in an ongoing conflict which has claimed thousands of lives.  Politics, especially in electoral cycles, so often comes down to religion.

Boko Haram is a religious actor whose primary goal is to implement Sharia law across the entire state of Nigeria.  They claim that the 50.5% population of Muslims is underrepresented at a Federal level and advocate extreme violence to achieve their objectives.  It is clear that the vast majority of Muslims in Nigeria do not support the religious stance of the group but the popularity of Sharia law since its institution in the twelve northern states shows the strength of faith in the region.

The complexity of the ethno-religious conflicts engulfing the Middle Belt and the north of Nigeria is difficult to summarise here.  While the attacks of Boko Haram are frequently framed as solely religious actions the reality is a more complex conflagration of ethnicity, alienation, fear and insecurity.


3. Urban Planning

Street Politics

Islamic design resonates in the street networks of Kano. To ensure privacy and the seclusion of women the city does not have a regularized street network and instead seeks to avoid long lines of sight and open vantage points. A consequence of this urban planning has been that non-Muslim migrants to the city have been taken up residence in the non-Muslim enclave, ‘Sabon Gari’ (colloquially: ‘Sabo’). This has meant that the cities of the north have grown from having a single core to being polynucleated with conflicting parties living side by side but not together. When conflict erupts in urban areas, it can be explosive. Boko Haram attacks frequently target the ‘Sabo’ districts.


4. Mistrust

Beware 419

The mere mention of Nigeria often conjures the phrase ‘419’. While popularly known as an internet scam, the number is derived from the property laws in Nigeria in which Law 419 outlines property ownership. The phrase ‘Beware 419’ litters walls across the country to alert ‘potential buyers’ that the house is in fact inhabited and not for sale. After asking for a deposit up front the criminal will flee the scene leaving the ‘new owners’ to confront the current occupants. Mutual distrust is rife.


5. The Security Vacuum

And if one green bottle should accidently fall...

Personal security takes primacy in the north of Nigeria. A lack of trust in the central authority of the state manifests itself in personal security measures. This picture shows the rows of broken glass bottles cemented into the top of a wall to deter intruders. Such walls surround houses in both high and low income areas as violent crime and theft is endemic. Disdain towards the Nigerian security forces have meant that the horrific bomb attacks of Boko Haram on police stations and international organisations have helped to garner support for the terrorist group.


6. Health

Testing Times

Northern Nigeria continuously faces a shortage of doctors known as a ‘brain drain’: doctors migrate to higher paying positions in the south of the country or further afield in Europe and North America. The issues of malnutrition and water shortages are taking their toll as the climate of the arid northern regions becomes increasingly inhospitable. Medicinal supplies are insufficient at current levels as malaria and HIV/AIDS remain at constant levels and when aid does arrive it has on occasion been mismanaged. In 2009 alone 84 children in the northern states died after ingesting a batch of contaminated teething medication.