Human Rights, Revolutionary Humanitarianism, and African Liberation in 1970: Unsettling Discontinuities in Human Rights History

Abstract: This is the story of the Comité International de la Défense d’Ernest Ouandié (CIDEO), established in Paris 1970 to prevent the execution of Ernest Ouandié, commander of the underground liberation army in Cameroon. Comprised of lawyers, intellectuals, and clergy, the committee framed its defense of the African revolutionary in human rights terms, portraying the Cameroonian legal system as non-compliant with its constitutional commitment to human rights, and appealing globally for clemency once he was sentenced to death. CIDEO’s human rights strategy shows the shifting relationship between violence and human rights in the era of decolonization, making visible the historical, political, and geographical contingencies within which human rights were revolutionary. This analysis of the committee’s advocacy reveals that present-day definitional criteria of human rights have too often shaped the way their history is reconstructed.

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