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An Alternative Approach: The African Union’s SEA Regulatory Framework

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Multidisciplinary Futures of UN Peace Operations


After decades of struggle to hold individual peacekeepers to account for sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), many changes and initiatives have been made at the UN level with varying impact. However, little attention has been given to how SEA is regulated beyond UN operations. This is pertinent given that the UN is increasingly relying on regional security forces, such as the African Union (AU), in maintaining peace and security. A 2014 HRW report documented SEA allegations against African Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers, revealing that the AU had yet to develop adequate regulatory frameworks to deal with SEA by peacekeepers. This is also the case with broader conduct and discipline issues. More recently, allegations of various human rights violations have implicated AU troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali.

In 2018, two significant AU policy documents were released, setting out the regulatory frameworks the AU hopes to establish with respect to SEA and Conduction and Discipline on its peace operations. This chapter focuses on the AU given these developments. Amidst increasing UN-AU cooperation in peacekeeping, critiquing the effectiveness and practicality of the AU’s 2018 SEA and Conduct and Discipline policies for AU operations is important, not least because of the UN’s human rights due diligence policy. The chapter will highlight some positive developments with regards to the content of the AU’s 2018 policies and some challenges that remain with regards to policy content and implementation. It will explore the underlying policy rationale, assumptions, definitions, and immunity coverage of different categories of AU peacekeepers from host state jurisdiction. The structure and processes for implementing the two 2018 policies will be examined and critiqued, including immunities afforded; reporting and investigation mechanisms; and responsibilities of AU and sending state entities. Finally, we will reflect on emerging issues concerning victim assistance and redress. Effective implementation, and further development, of the AU’s, SEA, and conduct and discipline policies will likely influence the way in which UN-AU cooperation develops in peacekeeping.

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  1. 1.

    On the importance of the HRDDP in the context of the relationship between the AU and UN in peacekeeping, see further, Róisín Burke. (2017a, b). “Due Diligence and UN Support for African Union Security Forces” Journal of International Peacekeeping. 21: 1–62.

  2. 2.

    Many sources are available through the following link:

  3. 3.

    As given in the SEA Policy’s Definition 5, which states “‘Civilian Personnel’ comprises of all individuals in the service of the PSO… who are not members of the police or military component…”.

  4. 4.

    General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Organization of African Unity. Resolution adopted by Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU on 25 October 1965 (Hereinafter ‘General Convention’).

  5. 5.

    These include, the HoM and Deputy HoM; FC; PC; CDU or focal point; HoM Support; representatives of personnel in mission; supervisory, commanders and chiefs of contingents, components, offices; Offices or Units of Protection, Gender, Human Rights, Child Protection and Civil Affairs; Office of Administration and Human Resources Management; Medical Units; Police Offices; ‘Designated Offices and/or officials in the regions’; ‘Designated NGOs, Community Organizations and host government offices’; and ‘Any other office that the HoM designates’.

  6. 6.

    Note that the term survivor is favoured by many. In this chapter the term victim is used, as it aligns with the terminology used in AU and UN policy documents. This is not intended to detract from the position of survivors of SEA and their agency, or to victimise them.

  7. 7.

    Within the UN’s response, SEA victims have rarely been assisted. Carla Ferstman, ‘Reparations for sexual exploitation and abuse in the (post-)conflict context: the need to address abuses by peacekeepers and humanitarian workers’, in eds. Carla Ferstman and Mariana Goetz, Reparations for victims of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, Leiden: Brill/Nijhoff, 2020, 271–97.


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Correspondence to Ai Kihara-Hunt .

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Kihara-Hunt, A., Burke, R. (2023). An Alternative Approach: The African Union’s SEA Regulatory Framework. In: Gilder, A., Curran, D., Holmes, G., Edu-Afful, F. (eds) Multidisciplinary Futures of UN Peace Operations. Rethinking Peace and Conflict Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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