New challenges for protecting IDPs in Africa

Published: 18 Dec 2012
By: Djibril Balde

In 2011, Africa had an estimated 9.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), more than on any other continent. Forced displacement due to internal conflicts, natural disasters as well as bomb attacks, which are alarmingly on the increase in countries such as Nigeria and Kenya, have all contributed to this number.

During a summit held in Uganda from 19-23 October 2009, the African Union (AU) adopted the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa – generally known as the Kampala Convention. Significantly, the Kampala Convention is the world’s first continental instrument that obliges states to provide legal and humanitarian protection for the rights of IDPs in Africa. It promotes and strengthens regional and national measures to prevent, prohibit and eliminate the root causes of internal displacement as well as provides for durable solutions.

When Swaziland ratified the treaty on 6 December 2012, making it the 15th member state of the African Union to do so, the Kampala Convention came into force.

However, as we have seen repeatedly, legislation does not necessarily mean change. There are still hotbeds of tension and conflict in many African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the two Sudans and Mali. These conflicts continue to generate IDPs. And these IDPs continue to lack adequate legal, physical and humanitarian protection. Attacks on IDP camps have been reported in Sudan, DRC and Côte d’Ivoire, resulting in injury, death and rape. Humanitarian actors continue to be blocked access to IDPs in some locations – for instance in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

In addition, even after displacement ends, IDPs are often impoverished because they have lost their land, property and livelihoods and struggle to access housing, jobs, health services and education once more.

So it will be a big challenge for governments, UN agencies and NGOs if the Kampala Convention is going to be anything more than yet another piece of international legislation.

It positive that some African states such Angola, Burundi, Uganda and Sierra Leone are already developing national laws and policies to better protect IDPs. To this end, and in order to ensure the implementation of the Kampala Convention, African states should set up national commissions in charge of coordinating activities aimed at protecting and assisting IDPs. The commissions should collaborate closely with NGOs and IDP community leaders. Members of the national commission should be trained with regard to the rights of IDPs. States should also be obligated to submit regular reports on the situation of IDPs in their respective countries to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights.

In addition, the African Union, in collaboration with the special Rapporteur and NGOs, must take responsibility for ensuring that the Kampala Convention is properly implemented by states, and should take steps if it is not. Finally, this important instrument will only be effective in protecting IDPs if all the other states of the African Union ratify and demonstrate the political will to ensure its implementation.

Type: IRRI Blog