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The Responsibility to Protect, as Enshrined in Article 4 of the Constitutive Act of the African Union

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Has the African Union (AU) embraced the responsibility to protect (R2P) in its Constitutive Act? Has it been successful in implementing R2P? This study, by the Institute for Security Studies, assesses its efforts to promote peace in Africa and to deal with emerging crises. It concludes that the AU is committed to R2P, although it is too early for a definitive judgment, since the institutions that the AU has developed to change attitudes need to be given an opportunity to work.

The chairperson of the African Union Commission, President Alpha Oumar Konaré, has advocated the importance of moving away from a culture of non-intervention to a culture of non-indifference. The AU has adopted a much more interventionist stance through its legal frameworks and institutions. The AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) was established in 2004 through the Protocol Relating to the Peace and Security Council of 2002. Furthermore, the Constitutive Act of the African Union (2000) enshrined a responsibility to protect in the document. The PSC can assess a potential crisis situation, send fact-finding missions to trouble spots and authorise and legitimise AU intervention in internal crisis situations.

The AU has taken an active, interventionist stance with regard to conflict situations in Burundi, Darfur and Somalia and is actively involved in supporting other peace operations on the continent. Given the youthfulness of its institutions, the AU is far from being able to operationalise an effective R2P regime, even though it has made a significant effort to conduct peace operations. The limitations of its fledgling institutions have been exposed in, for example, the complex humanitarian situation in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Nevertheless, with the adoption of the legal provisions of the Constitutive Act, for the first time in the history of Africa, the AU has the authority to intervene in internal situations in any state that may lead to atrocities against minority groups or communities at risk. To reinforce these provisions the AU is:

  • working for the establishment of an African Standby Force (ASF) comprising five brigades from each subregion by 2010;
  • cooperating with the UN and subregional African organisations in R2P;
  • developing an early warning system (CEWS) and a Panel of the Wise to assist with preventing the outbreak or escalation of conflict; and
  • pursuing its responsibility to rebuild the continent through its post-conflict and reconstruction framework.

Having a principle enshrined in the Constitutive Act and making sure that countries live up to it are two entirely different things. The AU will need to reorient political leadership on the continent and take decisive action, without which the challenges surrounding the implementation of R2P will not be met.

  • An effective AU post-conflict strategy must focus on the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants.
  • Demobilised fighters must have access to rehabilitation programmes that will enable them to acquire new skills and facilitate their transition back into society.
  • Security sector reform (SSR) is vital to ensure that national defense and police forces re-orient their activities towards building sustainable peace.
  • National institutions need to be rebuilt to consolidate democratic governance, rule of law and the protection of human rights in transitional societies.
  • Education and training must be provided to guarantee the sustainability of these institutions and to establish professionalism and integrity.


Author: Dr Tim Murithi
Source: Murithi,T., 2007, 'The Responsibility to Protect, as Enshrined in Article 4 of the Constitutive Act of the African Union', in Conflict Prevention and the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ in Africa?, ISS Africa, African Security Review Vol 16 No 3, South Africa
Size: 11 pages (131KB)