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Legal Personality of the African Union

Legal Personality of the African Union


The Rationale for Personality


Before embarking up on assessing the legal personality of the African Union both at international and domestic levels, it seems imperative to justify why we should bother about the legal personality of international organizations in general and that of the African Union in particular.


As you may recall from the course on the Law of Persons, the concept of personality is of paramount importance for any legally established entity to stand by itself and function accordingly. By the same token, legal personality is an indispensable requirement for an international organization to be able to appear in its own right in legal proceedings, whether at the international, or non-international level.


Member states of an organization have the option of creating an organization which has personality and can function as legal person. This primarily facilitates its activities and is deemed to be necessary for the functioning of the organization. This may not necessarily mean that the personality of an international organization has to be sated in black and white in the instrument that creates it. Not to go to the details, it suffices if you remember what you have student in on course the Law of International Organizations about the concept of functional personality.


To conclude, legal personality enables international organizations to acquire a status without which they would not be able to function as independent units. They would not even be able to conclude treaties with states, to rent buildings or perform other tasks of routine character which may demand an independent legal standing.


African Union’s Personality at an International Level


Having international personality for an international organization, like that of the African Union, implies that such entity can possess rights, duties, powers and liabilities as distinct from its members in international law. In past times, it was states alone which were used to be recognized as persons in public international law. Nowadays, however, the notion of absolute state sovereignty has become obsolete and international organizations are made to operate independently on the international level, distinct form the member states they have.


This may have a bearing on deciding whether the said organizations have international legal personality or not. To take a simple example, such an organization may not be in a position to conclude international treaties without securing unanimous consent of its member states so long as that treaty may have anything to deal with the internal affairs of a member states.


The African Union has, however transformed a lot as regards the issue raised above. Article 4 of its Constitutive Act makes the notion of non-interference to be restricted to a situation whereby a unilateral or other wise interference of any member state in the internal affairs of another whereas it clearly establishes the right of the Union, in its own capacity, to intervene in such matters. This, and other similar considerations, suggest that the African Union can function in the international plane as distinct from its individual member states.


As is the case in most similar international organizations, the Constitutive Act of the African Union does not confer the status of international personality to the African Union in a black and white manner. This does not, however, mean that the Union can not be considered as an international legal person. In the absence of clearly indicated personality, it has become customary to look for what are commonly called ‘indicias’ of personality which implicate whether the said organization is intended , in its making, to have international legal personality or not.

As you might recall it from the course on the Law of International Organizations, there are different considerations which might be taken into account with regard to the above stated consideration. To put it in simple terms, there are two considerations. The first one is whether the achievement of the purposes of the organization indispensably requires the attribution of international personality or not. In light of this standard, the objectives of the organization will be studied to determine whether they can be achieved without international legal personality or not.


The second consideration, which is more or less similar with the first one, is that the organization must be intended to exercise and enjoy functions and rights which can only be explained on the basis of the possession of international personality.


Based on the aforementioned indicias of international legal personality, we can deduce the fact whether the African Union is intended to have international legal personality or not from the text of the Constitutive Act of the African Union.


As it would be articulated in detail in the preceding sections of the material as well as the discussions made hereinbefore, the African Union has got some supranational characteristics. To take the most obvious instance, the African Union is mandated to intervene in the internal affairs of a member state in cases of grave human rights violations. It is in pursuance of this aim that the Peace and Security Council of the African Union has been established. The Council can not discharge its responsibility unless the Union has international legal personality by its own.  It has to be recalled that no individually member state of the Union can act individually in such circumstances. Rather, it is the Union as a distinct legal organ that is mandated to make the intervention. Therefore, we can conclude that the African Union has international legal personality.


The international legal personality of the African Union may as well be inferred from the similar personality that its predecessor i.e. the Organization of African Unity had by virtue of the General Convention of Privileges and Immunities of the OAU. Article 1 of the Convention reads as:


Article 1


  1. The Organization of African Unity shall posses juridical personality and shall have the capacity:


  1. to enter into contracts including the rights to acquire and dispose of movable

and immovable property.

  1. to institute legal proceedings.


If the Organization of African Unity had such legal personality, the African Union will obviously enjoy it. In fact, since the African Union has more supranational features than that of the Organization of African Unity, it necessarily has such personality.


African Union’s Personality within Its Member States


Legal personality in national law can often be based on the provision of the domestic law of the state in question. Some national laws, notably the United Kingdom, expressly grant to international organizations, of which the state is a member, legal personality or the capacity to contract, to acquire and dispose of property and to institute legal proceedings.


The problem would come to the fore in cases where the local law of the state concerned is silent as regards to the personality of the organization. While expressing their observation on this point,. Schermers and. Blokker have the following to say: “national courts have usually recognized the legal personality of international organizations as they apparently see no reason to deny the legal personality of organizations in which their own state participates.”


The case of the African Union does not seem   to be different from the above mentioned international trend. In the first place, a member state to the African Union may clearly confer personality to the Union. If this does not happen to be the case, it seems logical to infer their legal obligation to do so from the Constitutive Act of the African Union and other subsequent declarations made by the latter.


To take a very simple example, a peace keeping force of the African Union can in no way be denied personality within the territories of a member state. Doing so, may amount to making the mission a fictitious one which can not touch the ground. Article 24 of the Constitutive Act of the African Union ordains that the headquarters of the Union shall be in Addis Ababa and the Assembly of the Union may establish similar offices in the territory of other member states. Therefore, it can be said that the moment an African Union institution is established within the territory of a member state, the concerned state, ipso facto, recognizes the legal personality of the Union within its domestic jurisdiction. This is so because personality is a necessary requirement even to perform the day to day businesses of the organization.

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