African Union instruments to protect human rights and democracy: Ambitious objectives still to be achieved

Briefing 25-11-2022

The creation of the African Union (AU) in 2002 sparked hopes for a new era in African integration that would put an end to the most egregious violations of human rights and democratic norms that have plagued the region since its countries achieved independence. To fulfil this mission, the AU was endowed with broader competences and new institutional mechanisms. More and more African countries have ratified new and existing continental human rights and governance treaties, but AU members have adhered less to the more constrictive mechanisms included in these treaties. Two major instruments stand out among these new developments: the AU's competence to intervene militarily in major crises to stop severe human rights violations, and a proclaimed zero tolerance policy towards unconstitutional changes of government. The intergovernmental nature of the organisation and reluctance by member states to commit too much power to it have posed challenges to meeting its objectives. The AU has dispatched troops to some major crises, but not to others, and the planned African rapid intervention force is still to see action. The AU's policy of unconditionally condemning unconstitutional changes of government made a difference until recently, when the continent has witnessed a sudden resurgence in coups d'état. Despite swift condemnations of the coups in west Africa in particular, the AU has been criticised for its perceived lack of consistency with respect to similar situations elsewhere on the continent. The EU has been a strong supporter of these objectives, pledging aid and assistance to the AU. The European Parliament has developed a support programme for the Pan-African Parliament. This briefing updates two earlier 'at a glance' notes from 2017.