Chicago Journal of International Law

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The African Union purports to have the right to intervene in its member states in “grave circumstances,” including when crimes against humanity have been committed. This treaty-based right stands in stark contrast to the U.N. Charter collective security system, which generally forbids the use of force outside of self-defense and Security Council authorization. This Comment explores the legal friction between the African Union’s claimed right of humanitarian intervention and the U.N. Charter’s strict limits on the use of force and the power of regional organizations. A common argument in support of the African Union is that because its member states consented in advance to humanitarian interventions, no Charter prohibitions are breached. However, the consent is invalid due to the limited role the African Union can play as a regional organization in the Charter system. This Comment argues that the African Union right of intervention can be read as a right of collective self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. Under this reading, any humanitarian intervention would still need to meet the classic self-defense requirements of necessity and proportionality. These requirements would likely be met in any future intervention due to the practical limits of the African Union’s operational capabilities.