Africa: African IDP Convention comes into force
20 December 2012

Displaced woman in Muhanga IDP camp, eastern DRC (Danilo Giannese/JRS)
If implemented well, it can help states and the African Union address both current and potential future internal displacement related not only to conflict, but also natural disasters and other effects of climate change, development, and even megatrends such as population growth and rapid urbanisation.
Rome, 20 December 2012 – With the coming into force of the latest international treaty on 6 December last, African states are in a leading position when it comes to the establishment of a framework for protecting and helping internally displaced persons (IDPs). It is the first legally binding instrument to offer protection to the millions of Africans, who although forced to flee their homes, never cross an international border.

Even though the number of IDPs – more than 11 million – vastly outnumbers that of refugees in Africa – approximately 2.8 million – the rights of refugees are protected under the 1951 UN refugee convention and a similar instrument introduced 18 years later by the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union (AU).

Displaced within their own countries, IDPs have frequently relied on ad hoc support from the international community and national authorities, but without the right to such assistance. The 2009 African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) also known as the Kampala Convention, seeks to put the rights on a statutory footing, that is, the process whereby states agree to be legally bound by the terms and provisions of the convention.

Implications for the lives of IDPs. While the 1951 UN refugee convention only applies to those at risk of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, the IDP convention offers protection to those internally displaced fleeing armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, human rights violations or natural and man-made disasters.

The convention also sets out the obligations of states and other non-state actors, such as armed groups, relating to humanitarian assistance, compensation and support in finding lasting solutions to displacement, as well as accessing the full range of their human rights.

Further, it establishes a legal framework for the prevention of internal displacement, as well as requiring states to recognise that IDPs have specific vulnerabilities and must be supported. It goes further than international human rights and humanitarian law treaties in other aspects, for example, in the rules it contains on safe and voluntary return, and on access to compensation or other forms of reparation.

Given the relationship between instability and major displacement, this convention has the potential to bring stability to affected countries.

In the words of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Chakola Beyani, if "implemented well, it can help states and the African Union address both current and potential future internal displacement related not only to conflict, but also natural disasters and other effects of climate change, development, and even megatrends such as population growth and rapid urbanisation."

Challenges. The crucial challenge now is the same one facing international law in general – ensuring that the convention is actually implemented and respected. States must now take concrete steps to implement the convention into their own national legislation and regulation systems, and develop plans of action to address issues of displacement.

However, there is some question regarding the extent to which non-state actors and armed groups called upon by the convention to protect IDPs can be bound by its provisions. Progress requires member states to demonstrate greater political will to implement the convention and address concerns surrounding sovereignty and enforcement. Resolving issues of displacement in Africa requires political solutions.

It is now an opportunity for NGOs and international intergovernmental organisations, such as the AU, to use the convention as a benchmark to encourage African states – even those which have not ratified it – to implement its principles. On a positive note, since the document was agreed, non-signatory states, like Kenya, have already borrowed from the convention in developing a national policy. The challenge is to ensure we continue moving in this direction, and maybe one day extend the provisions to other parts of the world.



Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
international.communications@jrs.net
+39 06 69 868 468