Regional Organisations and the Responsibility to Protect: Challenging the African Union's Implementation of the Responsibility to Protect

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UNU Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies
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UNU-CRIS Working Papers
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After the Cold War African regional organisations with the African Union (AU) at the forefront, began to develop their own peace and security systems and undertook a proactive strategy, recognising their responsibility to protect African people from further suffering. This inter alia manifested in the AU’s shift from the principle of non-intervention to the principle of non-indifference, underpinned in AU’s right to intervene under Article 4 (h) of its 2000 Constitutive Act. Similar principles for protection of populations were later introduced at the international level in the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and were presented in its final form in the UN General Assembly at the 2005 World Summit. The first part of this paper seeks to clarify the role of regional organisations in RtoP implementation. It evaluates where regional organisations stand and what role was foreseen for them in the core documents circumscribing RtoP. It then turns to conceptualise AU’s RtoP enunciation, arguably one of the most progressive regional implementations of the doctrine. The paper provides an overview of the AU’s legal background that correlates to RtoP and places the AU’s laudable newly established mechanisms and institutions within the three-pillar RtoP structure. Furthermore, it challenges their effectiveness when used to confront RtoP situations in Africa, either peacefully or through enforcement action, and tries to assess why some attempts to stop or prevent human suffering were more successful than others.

The paper finally concludes that regional organisations are considered an important counterpart in RtoP implementation. The AU’s initiatives within the first and second pillars, especially in respect of preventive and peaceful resolution mechanisms, are praised for having a huge potential and have already successfully contributed to the resolution of conflicts in the past. However, its role regarding the use of coercive measures is less clear. The paper pinpoints the discrepancy between the AU’s aspirations and actual implementation with regard to RtoP. However, it also demonstrates a growing trend in which the AU provides for the first international response to African conflicts, which is only ex post facto buttressed by the broader international community. The AU’s RtoP implementation suggests that responses to African conflicts remain of an ad hoc nature. Moreover, the success of the AU’s RtoP implementation, especially in the course of peacekeeping, is inseparably coupled and interrelated to the effectiveness of AU-UN collaboration and therefore largely depends on the development of a unified and predictable framework of cooperation between the UN and the AU in the pursuit of peace and security.

regional organisations, implementation of RtoP, African Union, Africa, peace and security, African Union-United Nations cooperation.