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The AU’s Responsibility to Protect

Prepared by: Stephanie Hanson
October 6, 2006


Resistance by the Sudanese government has blocked the implementation of a UN Security Council resolution calling for a UN peacekeeping force in the troubled Darfur region. Khartoum has instead given its blessing for an extension of the smaller mission fielded by the African Union (AU), a young organization without stable funding or fully functioning governing organs. The deployment of the fledgling AU amidst what has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis—labeled genocide by Washington—is in the eyes of some an “abject international failure” as well as a measure of the faith others place in the organization.

The aim of the African Union, profiled in this new Backgrounder, is to increase development, combat poverty and corruption, and end Africa’s conflicts. Experts say the AU’s creation of a Peace and Security Council and involvement in peacekeeping operations in Burundi are promising early successes. But it is limited by the very problems it exists to combat. Endemic poverty and civil conflict plague many states in Africa, and when these states see the AU’s struggling to reform its organizational structures, they are less likely to contribute funds. “The AU requires extensive political and material support from the international community to deliver on its commitments,” writes Kristiana Powell, a researcher at The North-South Institute, in a working paper on the AU’s emerging peace and security regime (PDF). A recent CFR Task Force report said African leadership in conflict prevention is important but also acknowledged the great need for international support, such as the logistical aid NATO has provided in Darfur. At a donor conference in July, the United States and European countries pledged roughly $200 million in additional funding to the AU force in Darfur (BBC), but that was before the extension of the AU’s mandate from the end of September until the end of this year. Arab nations raised some $50 million for the force’s extension, but that still falls short of the level of funding the AU will need to operate for the rest of the year.

Peacekeeping experts note three requirements for a successful operation: a defined mandate and peace plan, stable funding and troops, and a commitment to fulfilling the operation’s mandate. The AU force in Darfur lacks all three, due to UN Security Council divisions. In a new Podcast, the Brooking Institution’s Roberta Cohen says, “The African Union is being used to create the impression that something is being done to help the people of Darfur.” Meanwhile, the AU is considering another peacekeeping intervention: The Peace and Security Council has endorsed a plan to send 8,000 troops to Somalia, an operation with a projected cost of $931 million.

As the successor to the old Organization for African Unity, which was criticized for its lack of intervention in Rwanda’s genocide and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s war in the 1990s, the AU seeks a more intrusive role in such circumstances. It is the world’s only regional body that “explicitly recognizes the right to intervene in a member state on humanitarian and human rights grounds,” write  Cohen and lawyer William G. O’Neill in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. But this ambitious mandate has its limitations, as shown in Darfur, where the country of intervention has effectively prohibited the peacekeeping force from fulfilling its mandate. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the concept of the “responsibility to protect,” but analysts, including CFR Senior Fellow Lee Feinstein, say the UN’s response to Darfur has called into question its commitment to the principle.

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