At a glance

Established: 26 May 2001 (successor to the Organisation of African Unity, 1963)

Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Current membership: 55 states

Official languages: Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Kiswahili and any other African language

Official website:

Founding document: Constitutive Act of the African Union (2001)

Core human rights treaties: African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter)

Women’s rights treaty: Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, known as the Maputo Protocol

Children’s rights treaty: African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child


Constitutive Act of the African Union 

“GUIDED by our common vision of a united and strong Africa and by the need to build a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society, in particular women, youth and the private sector, in order to strengthen solidarity and cohesion among our peoples…”

Preamble, Constitutive Act of the African Union

For members of civil society and other advocates wanting to effectively engage with the AU, or other regional organisations on issues related to violence against women, there must be some understanding of the organisation’s structure and the function each of the main bodies fulfils. Each body within the AU serves a different function and will have different methods of engagement, all of which work together to achieve the goals and purposes of the organisation – as well as serving as mechanisms for civil society engagement. The Constitutive Act of the African Union can provide a starting point for understanding the AU and its work.

Preceded by the Organization of African Unity (established 1963), the AU was established with the adoption of the Constitutive Act of the African Union (“Constitutive Act”) on 11 July 2000 in Lomé (Togo). Outlining the regional organisation’s objectives, principles, bodies and their functions. Within the first four articles of the Constitutive Act, the principles and objectives of the AU are outlined – which includes the “promotion of gender equality” (Article 4.l), an issue fundamentally entwined with the elimination of violence against women.

Articles 5-22 of the Constitutive Act outline the main organs of the AU, through which it accomplishes the objectives listed in Article 3.  These main organs of the AU include:

  • Assembly of the Union
  • Executive Council
  • Pan-African Parliament
  • Court of Justice
  • Commission
  • Permanent Representatives Committee
  • Specialized Technical Committees
  • Economic, Social and Cultural Council
  • Financial Institutions

Each body’s responsibilities and functions are also outlined in Part 2 of the Constitutive Act, however these roles can be expanded by the Assembly. The Assembly may also create additional bodies when there is a determined need. The remainder of the Constitutive Act (Articles 23-33) is dedicated to the conditions of ratification and entry into force, AU membership and the terms upon which the Constitutive Act may be amended or revised.

iconLockWant More? Read the full text of the Constitutive Act of the African Union online

The Centre would like to thank and acknowledge Dr Ashwanee Budoo of the Centre for Human Rights University of Pretoria, for her significant contribution to the Africa Region section. 

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