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International Law-Making in Post-Colonial Africa: The Role of the Organization of African Unity

  • Tiyanjana Maluwa

Some three decades ago, two African international legal scholars explored, in separate essays, the impact of the newly independent African states on the development of certain areas of international law. The argument advanced in these discussions was straightforward enough: that the participation of the new African states in the international legal order, together with the unprecedented developments in international organizations and technology, had greatly circumscribed the frontiers of traditional international law; and that Africa, as a continent, had ceased to be merely an object of a Eurocentric international law, and was gradually taking up its place as a subject of, and an active participant in, contemporary universal international law.

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2. See Okoye, C. F., International Law and the New African States (London, Sweet & Maxwell 1972) passim; Elias, T. O., Africa and the Development of International Law (Leiden, Sijthoff 1972)passim. It should be noted that both these writers focused on the rather limited post-colonial state practice spanning barely a decade of independent African statehood.

3. Mensah-Brown, A. K., ed., African International Legal History (New York, United Nations 1975) p. 3.

4. Mutharika, A. P., ‘The Role of International Law in the Twenty-First Century: An African Perspective’, 18 Fordham ILJ (1995) p. 1706 at p. 1759.

5. Gathii, J., ‘International Law and Eurocentricity’, 9 EJIL (1998) p. 184.

6. Gathii, J., ‘Alternative and Critical: The Contribution of Research and Scholarship on Developing Countries to International Legal Theory’, 41 Harvard ILJ (2000) p. 263 at pp. 265–266.

7. See TWAIL Mission Statement, Conference on New Approaches to Third World Legal Studies, 7–8 March 1997, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Mass., USA, cited in Rajagopal, B., ‘From Resistance to Renewal: The Third World, Social Movements, and the Expansion of International Institutions’, 41 Harvard ILJ (2000)fn. 21.

8. See Rajagopal, ibid., at p. 529; see also Kennedy, D., ‘The Disciplines of International Law and Policy’, 12 Leiden JIL (1999) p. 36.

9. See Maluwa, T., International Law in Post-Colonial Africa (The Hague, Kluwer Law International 1999) passim.

10. The Constitution of the Association of African Trade Promotion Organizations of 1974. Art. XV(3) provides, somewhat unusually, that: ‘This Constitution shall provisionally come into force upon signature by twelve States and shall formally come into force upon ratification or approval by twelve States signatory to this Constitution’. The Constitution has been signed by twenty-six states (of which eleven are original signatories). Only three other OAU treaties draw a distinction between provisional and formal entry into force: the African Civil Aviation Commission Constitution of 1969, the Agreement for the Establishment of the African Rehabilitation Institute of 1981, and the African Maritime Transport Charter of 1994.

11. Szasz, P. C., ‘General Law-Making Processes’, in Joyner, C. C., ed., The UnitedNations and International Law (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1997) p. 27 at p. 30.

12. This provision states that the General Assembly shall initiate studies and make recommendations for the purpose of ‘promoting international cooperation in the political field and encouraging the progressive development of international law and its codification’. There is no equivalent provision in the OAU Charter. For a recent collection of studies on the work of the ILC, see Making Better International Law: The International Law Commission at 50 (Proceedings of the United Nations Colloquium on Progressive Development and Codification of International Law) (New York, United Nations 1998) passim.

13. Szasz, , op. cit. n. 11, at p. 39.

14. See resolution CM/Res.27(11).

15. But see Wembou, M., L'O.U.A. à I’aube du XXIe siècle: bilan, diagnostic et perspectives (Paris, L.G.D.J. 1995) pp. 6276, where he makes a proposal for the establishment of an African Commission of International Law. This proposal clearly goes far beyond the one contained in the Council and Assembly resolutions adopted in 1964. Wembou’s proposal, in fact, seeks to create for Africa a body that would exercise the functions that the ILC performs in the UN system. He proposes that such a commission should have, as its principal mandate, the ‘promotion and codification of African international law’, but with three specific areas of concentration: African international economic law; the law governing inter-African relations; and provision of expert and advisory services on legal issues to the OAU Council of Ministers and other sectoral ministerial conferences.

16. Thus, for example, the Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa was adopted in Bamako, Mali, on 30 January 1991 by a Conference of Ministers of Environment and was not referred to either the Council or the Assembly for further endorsement or adoption. The Council of Ministers, meeting in its 54th Ordinary Session, 27 May-1 June 1991, merely took note of this development; see CM/Res.1356 (LIV).

17. See Wembou, , op. cit. n. 15, at p. 105.

18. See, for example, Rwelamira, M. R., ‘The 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems’, 1 IJRL (1989) p. 557.

19. Mutua, M. wa, ‘The Banjul Charter and the African Cultural Fingerprint: An Evaluation ofthe Language of Duties’, 35 Virginia JIL (1995) p. 340.

20. Sloan, B., ‘General Assembly Resolutions Revisited (Forty Years Later)’, 58 BYIL (1987) p. 39, passim. See also the extensive literature cited at pp. 142–150.

21. Harris, D. J., Cases and Materials on International Law, 5th edn. (London, Sweet & Maxwell 1998); for other views on this subject, see Asamoah, O. Y., The Legal Significance of the Declarations of the General Assembly of the United Nations (The Hague, Nijhoff 1966); Castaneda, J., Legal Effects of UN Resolutions, English translation by Amoia, A. (New York, Columbia University Press 1969); Sonnenfeld, R., Resolutions of the United Nations Security Council (Dordrecht, Nijhoff 1981). See also the literature cited by Harris in the work referred to supra

22. GA Res. 1514 (XV), GAOR, 15th Sess., Supp. 16, p. 66.

23. GA Res. 1803 (XVII), GAOR, 17th Sess., Supp. 17, p. 15.

24. GA Res. 2625 (XXV); adopted without a vote on 24 October, 1970.

25. Individual Opinion of Judge Alvarez in the Anglo-Norwegian Fisheries case, ICJ Rep. (1951) p. 116 at p. 148.

26. Individual Opinion of Judge Lauterpacht in the South West Africa case, ICJ Rep. (1955) p. 122.

27. Bedjaoui, M., ‘Un point du vue du Tiers monde sur l'Organisation Internationale’, in Abi-Saab, G., ed., Le concept d'organisation international (Paris, Unesco 1980) p. 268: ‘[La] résolution de l’organisation internationale a toujours valeur obligatoire à l’egardde l’organisation comme vis-à-vis des Etats. Mais c’est au niveau de son exécution que peut apparaitre un probleme né de la volonté politique des Etats’. And, he concludes: ‘Il ne saurait confondre obligation et sanction’ (ibid.)

28. Ibid.

29. Wembou, , op. cit. n. 15, at p. 160.

30. Ibid., at p. 161.

31. Ibid., at p. 162. ‘Il apparaîl donc clairement qu'en raison de l'action patiente et dynamique des Etats du Tiers Monde en général et du Groupe africain en particulier, au sein des organisations internationales, la résolution figure aujourd'hui parmi les modes de création du droit international. Elle est même en passe de devenir le procédé normatif le plus utilisé aussi bien à l'ONU qu 'à l'OUA, et le plus apte à provoquer l'évolution, l'adaptation et la transformation du droit international, à cause de sa souplesse et des possibilities illimitées de renouvellement des concepts et des principes qu 'elle offre au monde.’

32. See n. 22 supra.

33. See Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention in the Domestic Affairs of States and the Protection of their Independence and Sovereignty of 21 December 1965, GA Res. 2131 (XX), GAOR 20th Sess., Supp. 14, p. 11.

34. See, for example, resolution CM/Res.384 (XXIII)(a), adopted by the OAU Council of Ministers during its Twenty-third Ordinary Session, held in Mogadishu, Somalia, from 6 to 14 June 1974. In this resolution, African states affirmed their recognition of the right of access to and from the sea by landlocked states and demanded the inclusion of a provision to this effect in the universal treaty to be adopted by the Third UN Law of the Sea Conference (UNCLOS III). This resolution was presented to the conference as the common African position on the matter and subsequently found expression in Art. 125 of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. Subsequent resolutions included that adopted by the Council of Ministers at its Thirty-seventh Ordinary Session in June 1981 which, inter alia, rejected the unilateral exploitation by any state of the resources of the international sea bed. See also the resolutions referred to in the discussion on ‘Soft Law and Other Non-binding Instruments’, infra.

35. African states have most recently contributed to this branch of international law through their participation in the so-called Earth Summit, which adopted the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development of 1992; see 31 ILM (1992) p. 874. Twenty years earlier, the OAU Council of Ministers had adopted a resolution on the subject ahead of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, which adopted the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment; see resolution CM/Res.262 (XVIII), Eighteenth Ordinary Session, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 14–19 February 1972.

36. See Wembou, , op. cit. n. 15, at p. 162, where he states: ‘Il s’agit là d’une contribution remarquable des Nations unies à la science du droit, grâce à l’action dynamique des nouveaux Etats, et, en particulier, des pays africains. [Et] ce faisant, les organes politiques de l’ONU, reprenant la pratique d’adoption de normes juridiques par le biais de résolutions qui est bien connue à l’OUA, ont révélé à la société international, un procédé souple et fécond de creation des normes du droit international.’

37. ‘[A] fixé les éléments constitutifs du principe de la non-ingérence dans les affaires inlérieures des Etats inscrits dans la Charte de l’Organisation panafricaine depuis 1963’; see Wembou, ibid., at p. 163.

38. Castaneda, J., ‘Valeur juridique des resolutions’, 179 Hague Recueil (1970) p. 125.

39. See, for example, Naldi, G. J., The Organisation of African Unity: An Analysis of Its Role (London, Mansell 1989) pp. 911.

40. Frontier Dispute (Burkina Faso v. Mali) case, ICJ Rep. (1986) p. 554. Court Chamber Decision. The Court had to delimit the frontier between Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) and Mali, both former French colonies. Both parties specifically asked the Court to take into account the principle of the inviolability of colonial boundaries embodied in the OAU resolution cited above; the Court recognized the importance of the principle not only to the parties but to other African states as well, and declared that the principle was now one of universal application (at p. 565). For a discussion of the case and the principle of uti possidetis, see Naldi, G. J., ‘The Case Concerning the Frontier Dispute (Burkina Faso/Republic of Mali): Uti Possidetis in an African Perspective’, 36 ICLQ (1987) p. 893. See also the brief discussion of this principle in Maluwa, T., ‘Disputed Sovereignty over Sidudu (or Kasikili) Island (Botswana-Namibia): Some Observations on the International Legal Aspects’, 5 African JICL (1993) p. 113 at pp. 123–126.

41. Harris, , op. cit. n. 21, at pp. 6465.

42. Helsinki Final Act: 14 ILM (1975) p. 1292. It is generally agreed that although the Act explicitly states that it is not a treaty and is not subject to registration with the UN Secretary General under Art. 102 of the UN Charter, it is often cited by the public, governments and other international actors as embodying legal obligations.

43. 31 ILM (1992) p. 874.

44. van Hoof, G. J. H., Rethinking the Sources of International Law (Deventer, Kluwer 1983) pp. 187189.

45. Szasz, , op. cit. n. 11, at p. 33.

46. Until recently, the OAU has not been publishing, either in print or electronic format, the resolutions adopted by its political organs. This has made these resolutions generally inaccessible to the general public; but, of course, once adopted by the relevant political organs, they become public documents (and, hence, open to the public). Compilations of the resolutions adopted by the Council of Ministers and the Assembly of Heads of State and Government from 1963 to 1983 have been compiled for use within the OAU General Secretariat. However, these compilations have never been published for the benefit of the public at large. Resolutions and declarations adopted since 1984 have not been similarly compiled yet. See Resolutions and Declarations Adopted by the Meetings of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government (1963–1983) (Addis Ababa, OAU General Secretariat 1987); and Resolutions and Recommendations Adopted by the OAU Council of Ministers, 3 Vols. (Addis Ababa, OAU General Secretariat 1987).

47. See resolution CM/Res.521 (XXVII) on International Zone Extending Beyond National Jurisdiction, adopted on 3 July 1976 in Port Louis, Mauritius; and resolution CM/Res.570 (XXIX) on The Law of the Sea, adopted on 3 July 1977 in Libreville, Gabon.

48. See n. 5 supra.

49. Stone, J., The Quest for Survival: The Role of Law and Foreign Policy (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press 1961) p. 88.

50. The Constitutive Act of the African Union abrogated and replaced the Charter of the OAU when it entered into force on 26 May 2001. However, in accordance with Art. 33(1) of the Constitutive Act, the OAU Charter (and thus the OAU itself) shall remain operational for a transitional period of at least one year, or such further period as may be determined by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU, pending the operationalization of the African Union.

1 Ph.D. (Cantab). Legal Adviser, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, Switzerland; formerly Legal Counsel, Organization of African Unity, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The views expressed herein are personal and do not reflect or represent those of the Organization of African Unity

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