June 30, 2006

African Union: Postponement of democracy charter

Disagreements over preventing African leaders extending their rule indefinitely have forced the postponement of a democracy charter due to have been adopted at a summit, South Africa said. According to South Africa's Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, foreign ministers from the 53-member African Union meeting in Banjul, Gambia, had discussed a draft African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. But they could not agree on a clause to prevent governments altering constitutions to extend their rule, and decided instead to send the draft document back to a committee of ministers who drew it up, she said.

A draft charter drawn up by the committee of AU ministers included a clause threatening sanctions against governments who violated the spirit or letter of their constitutions to extend their rule indefinitely. The clause was seen as targeting a growing number of African presidents who have tried to amend their constitutions to remove term limits. Leaders from Uganda, Guinea, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Congo Republic and Chad have recently used constitutional change to extend their rule. A bid by supporters of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to change the constitution to allow him a third term was defeated in parliament. The far-reaching draft AU charter also called for elections to be organised by independent commissions, pledged signatories to eliminate discrimination and human rights abuses, and reinforced the African Union's condemnation of governments who seize power by unconstitutional means. Some experts say that even if adopted at a future African Union summit, the charter would be more a statement of intent than a binding treaty. "It is not enforceable, it's more of a guide. It has moral status," said one diplomat following the Banjul summit. (The Mail & Guardian, South Africa)

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