Since the end of the Cold War, power-sharing negotiated settlements have become the international community’s preferred strategy for ending conflicts and building peace and democracy in deeply divided societies. In particular, sub-Saharan Africa has become an arena for several power sharing experiments. Contemporary peace agreements are complex instruments regulating various aspects of how power in the post agreement stage will be divided or shared across the military, political, territorial and economic spheres. A striking feature of many recent agreements is in their extensive references to human rights: from ratification of international treaties, to establishing transitional justice mechanisms, various political and civil rights like the right to political participation, freedom of expression, assembly and the media, various economic and social rights such as the right to land, the right to food, health and education and even third generation rights including the right to a clean environment and the right to development.
Peace agreements are also increasingly paying attention to the protection, respect and fulfilment of the rights of certain groups such as women, children, minorities and indigenous people. However while peace agreements are espousing international human rights norms, the nature of the power-sharing arrangements, as mechanisms which provide belligerents with access to important spheres of powers may in itself represent an obstacle for the fulfilment of such rights. Often when power is shared between warlords and incumbent governments who have been implicated in human rights atrocities it is difficult to see how justice for the victims can be effectively achieved. The legality of the power-sharing peace agreements and their compatibility with international human rights norms and constitutional orders is also questionable. Moreover, peace negotiations are elitist in nature and may not be representative of all the various groups in societies. As such the power-sharing arrangements brokered between elites may not serve the interest of all and may lead to the marginalisation of the rights of certain minority groups and other societal segments during the transition.
Yet, the effect of power-sharing agreements may not be necessarily negative. In fact, peace agreements can represent a window of opportunities for marginalised communities to consolidate their political, social and economic rights. Recent research on gender in post-conflict societies suggests that power sharing peace agreements can effectively enhance women’s political participation in post-conflict governance, particularly where political quotas, seat reservations and proportional representation in the electoral system are adopted. Ethnic minorities and indigenous people may also benefit from the power-sharing deal and gain access to land and resources. Hence, the human rights commitments in peace agreements may have significant impact beyond their mere ‘cosmetic’ value. This is particularly so, when considering that peace agreements generally contain the constitutional blueprints that redefine the nature of the state and lay the foundations of the political institutions in transitional societies.