5 December 2012

Africa: UN High Commissioner for Refugees Hails 'Historic' Breakthrough On the Protection of Internally Displaced People in Africa

press release

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres today welcomed the entry into force of an Africa-wide treaty on the protection of internally displaced people. Guterres described the coming into force of the African Union Convention on the Protection of and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (the Kampala Convention) as a breakthrough.

"This is historic, and not just for Africa," Guterres said. "Around the world, the number of people forced into displacement within their own countries is growing. The Kampala Convention puts Africa in a leading position when it comes to having a legal framework for protecting and helping the internally displaced."

The Kampala Convention covers displacement from causes that include conflict, natural disasters, climate change and projects. It affirms that States have primary responsibility for their own internally displaced citizens, but also calls for national and regional actions to prevent internal displacement and to ensure that such people are protected and helped.

The Kampala Convention was first adopted in October 2009 at a meeting of the African Union, and 37 of the AU's 54 member states have since signed it. To come into force the Convention has to be ratified by at least 15 of the 54 AU states. On 6th November, Swaziland became the 15th country to formally submit its ratification to the chairperson of the African Commission AU. The Convention is due to enter into force tomorrow (6th December 2012).

Countries that have ratified the Convention are required to implement it by turning its provisions into national laws. UNHCR, which played a role in the drafting of the Convention, supports governments in taking measures in domesticating the provisions of the Convention.

Worldwide, and as of end 2011, 26.4 million people were displaced inside their own countries. This compares to 15.2 million refugees (i.e., people displaced across an international border). Despite the high numbers of internally displaced people, development of an international legal framework to protect them has remained significantly less advanced than that for refugees.

Across Africa, there are 9.7 million internally displaced people of whom 6.97 million receive UNHCR assistance, more than on any other continent. The largest IDP populations are in Somalia (1.36 million), Sudan (2.4 million), and Democratic Republic of the Congo (estimated to be more than 2 million).

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