Home / Events / ISS Seminar, Addis Ababa: Seminar on the relationship between the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council
ISS Seminar, Addis Ababa: Seminar on the relationship between the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council
Date: 19 May 2011
Venue: , Desalegn Hotel, Addis Ababa

Hosted by the Peace and Security Council Report Programme (PRP) of the ISS in partnership with the Security Council Report (SCR)


This first PRP seminar was aimed at facilitating discussions and debate on the growing relations between the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) with a focus on the development and challenges of the relationship.

Since the establishment of the African Union and more particularly the operationalization of the Peace and Security Council, the AU has assumed a prominent role in the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts on the continent. In order to achieve a coherent and coordinated response to crisis situations in Africa and mobilize political and financial support for its initiatives, the AU has established partnerships with a wide range of international actors and partner countries. One of the most important of such partnerships is the relationship between the AU and the United Nations Organization (UN).

One aspect of this partnership involves the interaction between members of the PSC and the Security Council of the UN (UNSC). Given the responsibility of each in the maintenance of peace and security on the continent and the potential value if productive synergies can be achieved as a result of the partnership between the two organs, the relationship between them is of very critical significance. The decisions of these bodies may have serious consequences for the peace and security dynamics of the continent. A common and coherent approach by the two bodies would contribute tremendously to the resolution of conflicts in Africa. However, divergence between the two bodies on issues of peace and security has the potential to undermine efforts for the resolution of crisis situations on the continent.

Since 2007 the PSC and the UNSC have held annual consultative meetings. The meetings take place alternatively in Addis Ababa and New York. The most recent meeting was held on 21 May 2011, two days after this seminar, at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Seminar which was chaired by H.E Mr Mull S. Katende, Ambassador of Uganda to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the AU and the ECA, was opened by the Director of the ISS office in Addis Ababa, Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya. The ISS Director noted that there was a need to share experiences between the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) on their global and continental mandates and emphasised the benefit of the seminar as a platform for enhancing the growing partnership between the two organs while creating an opportunity for regular and open debate to  discuss issues around the critical  roles of the two councils in resolving existing and future conflicts in Africa. Ambassador Akinsanya, who listed the various UN and AU documents defining the role and working relations of the two Councils, urged that the engagement between the two organs be more than a symbolic meeting of members each year.

The Key Note Address

The Director of the Peace and Security Department of the African Union, Mr El-Ghassim Wane, delivered a keynote address which was very well received by the other seminar participants. Mr Wane, who was very candid and detailed in his presentation, set the tone for the seminar by articulating the growing collaboration as well as the problems and frustration surrounding the relations between the AU PSC and the UNSC. Mr Wane referred to Article VII of the UN Charter which identifies international peace and security as the primary responsibility of the UNSC. He expressed the view that interpretation of the article should depend on specific situations of peace and security in a creative and innovative reading of the relevant article. Mr Wane said that three factors should be taken into account in the future relationship of the UNSC and PSC. The first one, according to Mr Wane, is the development of the AU peace and security normative and institutional rolls. He said that the AU had become more proactive, dynamic and assertive, leaving less space for the UN to engage in Africa amid the uneasiness of some member states of the UNSC. Secondly the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) is in place .The third point is the legitimacy of the UNSC as Africa does not have a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. The keynote address which was a major part of the seminar was generally commented upon by many participants, touching on such issues as an envisaged Africa permanent seat at the UNSC and UN reforms, African solutions for African problems and the need for harmony and better coordination between African Ambassadors in Addis Ababa and their counterparts  in New York.


The first presentation was made by Mr Colin Stewart who is the Chief of Staff and Deputy Head of the UN liaison office to the AU. Mr Stewart said his office in Addis was relatively new and that by July 2011 would have a full complement of staff numbering 63. He said that the problem of relations between the UNSC and AU PSC boiled down to leadership. His presentation focused on the moves by the UN in strengthening the relations between the AU and UN. Mr Stewart admitted that the growing relations of the two organisations faced many difficulties as articulated by Mr Wane and he emphasised that there was no disagreement on the existence of such problems. He stressed however that those discussions should preferably focus on what can and should be done to resolve the tensions between the two bodies. He also talked about the leadership of the UNSC and the dynamics between the members of the Security Council as well as the protracted issue of the reform of the United Nations. Mr Stewart pointed out that a high percentage of peace-keeping troops in Africa are not from Africa. Mr Stewart also joined in the debate about the emerging role of the AU in resolving continental security challenges in the light of fears by  members of the UNSC that such a trend may result in the ‘regionalisation/balkanisation of security`. He concluded his presentation by stating that the UN remained very serious about seeing improvement in its relations with the AU and that the prospect and momentum for change was positive. He said the UN had no other regional relations that resemble its current engagement with the AU.

The second presentation was by Mrs Joanna Weschler, Deputy Executive Director and Director of Research for the Security Council Report, based in New York. She noted that Africa dominated the agenda of the UNSC and that recent years had witnessed a significant improvement in the working relations and infrastructure of the two organs. She added that she believed cooperation was moving impressively in the right direction and her concern was about the leadership of the member states of the two organs. Mrs Weschler also announced that her program had recently published an in-depth research report on the relations of the two Councils funded by the Australian Government. The Research Report concludes that relations between the two bodies will improve in years to come. She also discussed practices for improving partnerships such as the establishment of working groups on Africa that could assist in improving ties. She said a recommendation had been made that the working group on Africa functions as a secretariat and that it could, for example, invite the AU Chair to go to New York to give briefings. The Chair of the AU PSC could also invite the New York Permanent Representatives to visit Addis Ababa annually in between meetings. She said that currently the AU PSC and UNSC meet not as organs, but only as member states.

The third and final presentation was made by Dr Solomon Ayele Dersso, a Senior Researcher with the Peace and Security Council Report Programme of the ISS Addis Ababa office. His presentation focused on the existing relations between the two Councils and on possible mechanisms and ways to take the partnership to a much higher level.

He referred to Chapter 8 and Article 52 of the UN Charter that imposes obligations and encourages the use of regional organisations within an established setting. He noted that the AU is empowered to intervene in other states in grave circumstances such as civil war or civil conflict. He said the burden on the AU in terms of personnel and other resources was essentially reduced through UN participation and that the way forward came down to three specific choices: 1) maintaining the status quo with no clarity or meeting of minds, a situation patently unfair to the AU; 2) an informal non-institutionalised arrangement; and 3) a comprehensive redefinition of the relationship between the two bodies. He said that the “how” and “when” questions needed to be addressed.

Discussions and conclusion

The presentations were followed by an interactive discussion, which centred on UN reforms, issues of parity and other issues related to best practices of UN sanctions applied in Africa. Some participants questioned whether the UN could be reformed at all. Other questions focused on ownership by the AU on training and the capacity building needs of the AU as well as regionalisation of security. In general, seminar participants noted that the relations between the AU PSC and UNSC are growing despite numerous challenges requesting genuine and speedy solutions, mostly from the UN side.

Concluding remarks were made by Dr Duke Kent Brown, Program Head of the Peace and Security Council Programme of the ISS, Addis Ababa, in which he hailed the success of the seminar and thanked donors and staff who have supported the seminar and the ISS.



Desalegn Hotel
Addis Ababa
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