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Peace and Security Council of The AU


Establishment of a common defense policy for the African continent is one of the sixteen cardinal principles of the African Union. While explaining the historical roots of the Peace and Security Council, Timothy stated that the founders of the African Union deliberately endowed it with more interventionist power than the OAU which was criticized as having been a toothless talking shop where a club of presidents and prime ministers informally embraced a policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of their member states. The misdeeds of the past have to take the blame for the untold miseries of the Africans in different parts of the continent including Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic Congo and the Sudan. Africa can be expected to have a bright future only in so far as there exist a scheme whereby the members of the African Union can function as, to use Thabo Mbeki’s words, their brothers’ keeper. This can be realized with a Peace and Security Council of the African Union.

Despite all the above pressing demands for the need to have a Peace and Security Council of the African Union, the Constitutive Act of the Union did not mention it as one of the principal organs of the African Union. The Constitute Act was, however, open enough to let the Assembly establish any other organ of the union which it deems necessary.

Accordingly, the African Union established its Peace and Security Council on 26 December 2003 when the protocol relating to the Council was entered into force. This was a remarkable step taken by the Union so as to act according to its principles of establishment of a common defense policy for the African continent. This step could demonstrate African Union’s commitment to good governance and its willingness to legally sanction any infractions against the legally established constitutional order of a member state and there by give effect to the Constitutive Act. In a continent where numerous states are engaged in conflicts of varying degrees, the Peace and Security Council is undoubtedly of vital importance. Article 9 of the protocol on Amendments to the Constitutive Act of the African Union formally established the Council.

Objectives, Functions and Composition of the Peace and Security Council  

One might wonder as to what power does the Peace and Security Council of the African Union have mainly in light of similar and perhaps overlapping tasks that it has with the Security Council of the United Nations. The protocol relating to its establishment (herein after referred to as the Protocol) was framed taking this dilemma into account. It reaffirms its conviction to the Charter of the United Nations which conferred on its Security Council the responsibility of maintaining the international peace and security. It is based on the foundation of the powers of the Peace and Security Council on the United Nations Charter as it recognizes the role of regional arrangements in the maintenance of international peace and security. Therefore, the Peace and Security Council is meant to function in collaboration with the Security Council of the United Nations. It is as a manifestation of this commitment that the Protocol pledges to be guided by the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights along with the Constitutive Act of the African Union.

The objectives of the Peace and Security Council are enumerated in Article 3 of the protocol. The notable objectives of the Council, inter alia, include promotion of peace, security and stability in Africa, anticipation and prevention of conflicts, assist the peace building and post conflict reconstruction activities, join African hands in the fight against terrorism and developing a common defense policy for the African Union.

The Council is expected to attain its objectives by performing tasks which vary from preventing the occurrence of conflicts in Africa to managing the conflicts which have already occurred. Article 7 of the Protocol specifies the specific powers that it has. For the purpose of a general understanding of the mandates of the Council, let’s have a look at what is provided in the Protocol itself as a list of functions meant to be performed by the Peace and Security Council.

Article 6

The Peace and Security Council shall perform functions in the following areas:

  1. Promotion of peace, security and stability in Africa;
  2. Early warning and preventive diplomacy;
  3. Peace-making, including the use of good offices; mediation, conciliation and enquiry;
  4. Peace support operations and intervention, pursuant to Article 4(h) and (j) of the Constitutive Act;
  5. Peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction,
  6. Humanitarian action and disaster management;
  7. Any other function as may be decided by the Assembly.

The Peace and Security Council shall be composed of fifteen member states of which ten of them shall remain in-charge for a term of two years and five of them for a term of three years. The term of office of the latter category is extended by a year as compared to the former with a view to ensure continuity of tasks within the Council. Unlike the case in the Security Council of the United Nations, where the five permanent members have the so called veto power, all members of the Peace and Security Council shall have equal votes in decision making. On top of that, the Peace and Security Council is different from the Security Council of the United Nations in that no member has permanence in this position and it will be rotated among member states of the Union. The Chairmanship of the Peace and Security Council shall be held in turn by the members of the Council in the alphabetical order of their names and shall hold office for one calendar month. A set of criteria is listed down in Article 5(2) of the Protocol that would be used by the Assembly in electing the fifteen members of the Council. The Assembly is duty bound to apply the principle of equitable regional representation and rotation among member states of the Union. In addition to that, the Protocol listed down nine detailed criteria that the Assembly shall take into account in the process of electing member states. These nine criteria may be generalized so that the prospective member state shall have the adequate capacity and commitment to discharge the functions attributed to the Council.

The Mode of Operation of the Peace and Security Council

The Peace and Security Council is a standing decision-making organ for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts in Africa. The Protocol vows to organize the Council so as to be able to function continuously. In pursuance of this pledge, each member state of the Council shall, at all times, be represented at Addis Ababa, the Headquarters of the Union. Thus the capacity of a member state to have a sufficiently staffed and equipped permanent mission at the Headquarters of the Union and the United Nations is used a criterion in electing member states to the Council. A state that can comply with such requirements is expected to be able to shoulder the responsibilities which go with the membership to the Council.  

The Peace and Security Council may establish subsidiary bodies which it believes to be appropriate for the proper accomplishment of its mandates. In particular, it may set up ad loc committees for mediation, conciliation, or enquiry, consisting of an individual state or group of states. It is also required to seek military, legal and other forms of expertise as it may be necessary in the circumstances of the case. The functions of the Council are highly intrusive in the sovereignty of a member state wherein the intervention is going to be made. This would obviously complicate the tasks that it has given the well-entrenched jealously and respect that most African states have towards their sovereignty. 

With regard to the Agenda to be seized by the Peace and Security Council, it shall provisionally be determined by the Chairperson of the Council based on proposals submitted by the Chairperson of the Commission and the member states. The Council has similar quorum requirements like most other organs of the African Union. The presence of two-thirds of the fifteen members should constitute a quorum.

Similar with that of the other organs of the African Union, the meetings of the Council shall be held in closed meetings. As an exception to this rule, the Council may decide to hold open meetings. There are three possibilities for the Council to make its meeting open to a non-party to the Council.                    

The first possibility is a case whereby a state that is not a party of the Council shall be invited to present its case and shall participate in the discussions of the Council, provided that it is the party to a conflict or a situation being considered by the latter. It is obvious that, the invited state will participate minus the right to vote on the matter. It has to be stressed that the right of the concerned states to participate does not depend on the mercy of the Council.

The second and third possibility is conducting an open meeting, in which a non party to the Council may get involved in discussions, depend on the decision of the Council. In the second possibility, member state of the African Union that considers that its interests will be affected by the outcome of the case, may be invited to participate in the discussions. The remaining possibility is a case whereby a Regional Mechanism, international organization or civil society organization which is involved in or has an interest in the matter under consideration may be invited to take part in the discussions. In both cases, the participating entities would naturally be devoid of the right to vote.

It is not unlikely for a member state of the Peace and Security Council to be a party to a conflict or a situation, that is being examined. In such cases, the member state concerned shall be treated as though it were not a member of the Council. Accordingly, it shall only be involved in the discussion, but not in the decision making by casting votes. In all other cases, each member of the Council shall have one vote. In the absence of unanimity of votes, the Council shall adopt its decision on procedural matters by a simple majority and by a two-thirds majority on matters other than the procedural issues.

The agendas of the Council are so critical that due diligence and strict adherence to the principles of the Union is expected from each member. To exemplify this statement, let’s use two sensitive cases in which the Council may make decisions.

The Council has the power to recommend the Assembly is intervention, on behalf of the Union, if it is convinced that a member state of the Union is in a state of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, as defined in relevant international conventions and instruments, of which the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court is a notable one.

To take another example of its sensitive mandates, the Council is indebted to institute sanctions whenever an unconstitutional change of government is said to have occurred in any member state of the Union. This should have an impact on the ability of the African Union to protect the well being of vulnerable groups due to the resultant breakdown of law and order. However, if not managed properly, the decisions of the Council may in themselves be sources of bitter conflict between the Union and its member states. 

As it could be inferred from what has been stated hereinbefore, the Peace and Security Council has an important and sensitive mandate. To make it able to function properly and thereby facilitate timely and efficient responses to conflict and crisis situations in Africa, the Council shall be assisted by other entities. In particular, it shall be supported by the African Union Commission, a Panel of the Wise, a Continental Early Warning System, an African Standby Force and a Special Fund.

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