The AU was established in September 1999 as the result of an extraordinary session of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), in which African heads of state and government leaders issued a declaration (the Sirte Declaration) calling for its establishment. The AU’s main objective, building on those of the OAU, is to accelerate the process of continental integration for member states by addressing the multifaceted social, economic, and political problems prevailing throughout Africa.
The major rubric under which the AU operates is the unity of African peoples and states; given this, it is deeply committed to removing the last vestiges of colonialism and assisting all its members to develop their full potential in a truly African context. It rejects foreign exploitation and seeks to build a strong economic environment from within Africa itself. Further, it is committed to peace, security, and stability for the continent and thus serves as the principal body through which African states and peoples can promote democracy and the guarantee of fundamental human and civil rights.
The AU’s most pressing concern, since its establishment, has been the ongoing humanitarian crisis and genocide in Darfur, Sudan, an issue still requiring (as of late 2007) resolution. Much of the AU’s activity in this regard has been directed toward the attainment of a settlement without external intervention from the United Nations. Darfur has thus served as an important testing ground for the African Union; such gains as it has made have not always been appreciated by the international community, individual nation-states, and scholars, all of whom have often held that Darfur is a bigger problem than the fledgling AU can handle by itself.
As things stand, the AU is in danger of becoming another multi-nation “talking shop” unless it can achieve the unity its founding documents proclaim.
African Union, Constitutive Act
In Article 4 of this act, it notes “the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.”
Source; Dictionary of Genocide, by S. Totten and P.R. Bartrop, 2008