The African Union System of Refugee Protection

A Champion, not a Recipient?

in International Organizations Law Review
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Africa has often been treated as a mere recipient of legal systems, particularly by the former colonial powers. However, an examination of the African practice of international law reveals that, in the specific area of refugee protection, Africa has been championing a legal framework capable of successfully addressing the African region’s ‘peculiar’ refugee problem. The rise and evolution of the refugee protection system in Africa, within the African Union (which in 2001 replaced the Organisation of African Unity), dates from a time when the process of decolonisation, and the increasing number of refugees and displaced persons in Africa, laid bare the inadequacy of the international regime of refugee protection for dealing with the problem. Accordingly, the African states established a complementary system of refugee protection that has, over the years, contributed to the development of new legal instruments, an analysis of which will answer the question of whether the innovative African system of refugee protection is likely to have an influence on the development of international law in this area.

The African Union System of Refugee Protection

A Champion, not a Recipient?

in International Organizations Law Review




Viljoensupra note 3 p. 247.


Murraysupra note 2 p. 57.


Sharpesupra note 15 p. 55.


Sharpesupra note 23 p. 98.


Nonetheless Elmadmadsupra note 15 p. 120 confirms that “la Convention de l’oua est conçue comme un simple complément de la Convention de Genève à vocation universelle. Sa raison d’être n’est donc pas de supplanter la Convention de Genève bien que cette dernière montrait des signes de vieillesse et d’inadaptationˮ.


To this extent Mujuzisupra note 15 pp. 165–166 pointed out that the incorporation by several African countries of the African Convention’s definition of a refugee into their domestic law “could be indicative of the commitment of these countries to give effect to that treaty and also to ensure that they extend as much protection to people fleeing their countries as possible”.


Carliersupra note 15 p. 77. As held by unhcrAdvisory Opinion on the Extraterritorial Application of Non-Refoulement Obligations Under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (26 January 2007) available at: <> last visited 16 September 2014 the principle of non-refoulement represents “the cornerstone of international refugee protection”. For a selected literature on the principle of non-refoulement see inter alia F. Salerno ‘L’obbligo internazionale di non-refoulement dei richiedenti asilo’ (2010) 4 Diritti umani e diritto internazionale p. 487; V. Stoyanova ‘The Principle of Non-refoulement and the Right of Asylum-seekers to enter State Territory’ (2008–09) 3 Interdisciplinary Journal of Human Rights Law p. 1; A. Duffy ‘Expulsion to Face Torture?: Non-Refoulement in International Law’ (2008) 20 International Journal of Refugee Law p. 373.


Zorzi Giustinianisupra note 51 p. 354.


Zorzi Giustinianisupra note 51 p. 357.


Asplet and Bradleysupra note 52.


Viljoensupra note 3 p. 333. For further references see also Pelloux ‘Les limitations prévues pour protéger l’intérêt commun offrent-elles une échappatoire aux États liés par les conventions et pactes relatifs aux droits de l’homme?’ in Colloque de l'Université Catholique de LouvainLes clauses échappatoires en matière d'instruments internationaux relatifs aux droits de l'homme (Bruylant Bruxelles 1982) p. 45.


Viljoensupra note 3 p. 333.


Carliersupra note 15 p. 63.


Hofmannsupra note 31 p. 318.


Degni-Seguisupra note 15 p. 233.


Sharpesupra note 23 p. 105 emphasises for instance that the provision would represent a step forward in advancing an individual right to asylum in the field of refugee law.


Banjul Chartersupra note 64 Article 12 reads as follows: “1.Every individual shall have the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of a State provided he abides by the law. 2. Every individual shall have the right to leave any country including his own and to return to his country. This right may only be subject to restrictions provided for by law for the protection of national security law and order public health or morality. 3. Every individual shall have the right when persecuted to seek and obtain asylum in other countries in accordance with laws of those countries and international conventions.”


As argued by Elmadmadsupra note 15 p. 123 “la formulation de l’article 12 (3) de la Charte de Banjul est donc plus restrictive que celle de la Convention africaine de 1969”.


As emphasised by Mujuzisupra note 15 p. 176.


Bekkersupra note 15 p. 28.


Sharpesupra note 23 pp. 102–103.


Viljoensupra note 3 p. 244.


Elmadmadsupra note 15 p. 116.


Viljoensupra note 3 p. 569.

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