14 December 2012

Africa: The Kampala Convention On IDPs Enters Into Force

The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, also known as the Kampala Convention, entered into force on December 6, 2012, thirty days after Swaziland became the 15th nation in Africa to sign and ratify it. Think Africa Press asked several experts, "What will be the potential effects of the Kampala Convention and what are its successes and shortcomings?"

Andrea Lari, Director of Programs for Refugees International

For Refugees International, which helped shape U.S.-based contributions to the early stages of the drafting of the Convention, this historic step is seen as a starting point rather than a final achievement in and of itself. This legal commitment now has to be translated into the creation of adequate domestic legislation and operational regulations, as well as the apportioning of necessary resources.

The scope of the Convention is articulated around equipping states to prevent forced displacement, and investing in preparedness and response mechanisms to crises caused by conflict natural disasters. The Convention also stresses the importance of looking at interventions that can provide sustainable and durable solutions for those displaced - including the regaining of access to areas of origin, the ability to settle in other areas within their own country, or the integration into areas where they are currently displaced as part of a pre-existing community.

Implementing the Convention will be an incredible challenge. It will require the pro-active engagement of sub-regional institutions like the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the South African Development Community (SADC), as well as international financial institutions such as the African Development Bank, the World Bank, and leading and non-traditional donors. The challenge is on everyone involved to be champions for the betterment and well-being of Africa's most vulnerable citizens.

Kim Mancini, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)

At the end of 2011, there were 9.8 million people in Africa who have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict and war. When we consider the number of people displaced by natural disasters, climate-induced disasters, and people unlawfully forced from their homes by development projects such as building dams and clearing land for agriculture, this number is EVEN higher.

This requires African states to implement the Kampala Convention into its domestic legislation, to develop policy and to designate an authority responsible for the overall coordination of IDP activities. These requirements may seem legalistic or technical requirement, but gaps and uncertainties around who is responsible for doing what for IDPs often prove to be serious obstacles to the effective delivery of assistance and the protection of human rights of IDPs in Africa. In addition to being a legal instrument, the Convention is a means of empowering IDPs to know and assert their rights and their governments' responsibilities to protect and assist them.

The Kampala Conventions reflects the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which is a key global framework on internal displacement, and incorporates the past experiences in African countries related to humanitarian assistance and human rights of IDPs. In this way, it is also a good guide for states developing a response that is comprehensive to address all causes, the full spectrum of IDPs' human rights and that goes beyond emergency responses to include prevention, preparedness and finding long-term solutions.

It also reflects realities on the ground by recognising the important role that host communities and civil society organisations play in protecting and assisting IDPs. States must assess the needs of host communities as well as those of IDPs and states are encouraged to cooperate and collaborate with civil society organisations, as well as UN and other international humanitarian organisation.

The Kampala Convention does not however resolve, in itself, the challenges associated with respecting and fulfilling legal obligations in what are often crisis situations. Some of these are disaster preparedness, data collection, coordination and delivery of assistance and protection measures to address the risks that often arise from forced displacement like the separation of families, sexual and gender based violence, recruitment of children into armed groups and human trafficking. For this, the authorities and civil society organisations, with the help of international partners, need to mobilise the material and human resources to work together in practice.

Bruce Mokaya Orina, Head of the ICRC delegation to the African Union

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) welcomes the entry into force of The African Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Africa; also known as the Kampala Convention on 6 December 2012. The Kampala Convention seeks to strengthen regional and national measures to prevent or mitigate, prohibit and eliminate the root causes of internal displacement and provide for durable solutions - affirmed in article 2.

According to 2011 data available, Africa today is home to approximately 10 million IDPs out of a global estimated figure of 26 million, which represents close to 50% of the total global IDP caseload.

Yet, the continent still suffers from multiple causal factors: notably; structural in terms of equitable access to resources as well as weak governance and rule of law environments that predisposes populations to rampant displacement and human insecurity.

Most critically, conflicts remain the main causes of displacement in Africa. In that respect, if well implemented, the Kampala Convention and its Plan of Action that sets out a raft of measures to be undertaken at the national and regional levels, will help African governments to be 'better prepared, to respond better, and to recover better' from the effects of displacement whenever it happens. To achieve that, there is need to strengthen national legislations, including penal provisions to address violations of the rules of the Convention, and whenever armed conflicts occur, the respect and application of the provisions of International Humanitarian Law for the protection of civilian population.

From an ICRC standpoint, implementation of the Kampala Convention will therefore contribute by and large to a greater implementation and application of IHL in the continent, especially, and not only, that it is a treaty that is binding to both states and non-state actors.

Rom Bhandari is Legal Editor at Think Africa Press. He holds an LLM from King's College, University of London. His interests include human rights and migration.

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