The Kampala Convention: Time for Ratification

Published: 20 Feb 2017
By: Djibril Balde with Kristof Orlans

In October 2009, the African Union adopted The Kampala Convention, (the Convention) which was designed for the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Africa. It came into force in 2012, 30 days after its ratification by the 15th member state.

According to paragraph k of the 1st article of the Kampala Convention, IDPs are defined as: persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.

The Convention was signed by the Senegalese government in 2009 but has not yet been ratified. In 1982, a violent conflict erupted in the Southern region of Casamance, between the Senegalese government and the MFDC (Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de la Casamance), causing mass displacement among the local population. According to Agence Nationale pour la Relance des Activités économiques et sociales en Casamance (Anrac), 52,808 people have been internally displaced and 20,000 refugees now live dispersed in the neighbouring countries of Guinea-Bissau and Gambia. Furthermore, it is estimated that 824 persons have been the victims of anti-personnel mines, 150 have been killed and about 78 villages were viciously  destroyed.

In 2003, the Senegalese government adopted decree no. 2003-291 on the establishment of a National Committee for the Management of Refugees, Repatriates and Displaced Persons. However, this institution suffers from a substantial lack of visibility and efficiency towards the population it is supposed to protect. As an IDP who has been living in the city of Ziguinchor since 1991 testifies: “I feel like a stranger in my own country because our government never supported us. In, Ziguinchor, there is no organised shelter nor IDP camps. I have eight children and all together we’re 16 in my family. We don’t have income generating activities or livelihood opportunities. My children had to drop out of school because we were not able to pay for school fees nor can we afford school uniforms or supplies. Most IDP-children are in the same deplorable situation. Additionally, thousands of IDP-children lack legal documentation what hinders their participation to national exams. Also, the displaced population, who experienced these traumatic incidents first hand, is not actively involved in the search for durable solutions to the Casamance crisis.”

Economically, Casamance is poor largely due to the rebellion, a situation that gives no hope to the IDPs of the region. President Macky Sall promises much for the Casamance region, but he delivers nothing or too little for the people of this beautiful region to believe in other promises. Last week, on Thursday 9 February, Macky Sall visited Ziguinchor and once more flooded the south with promises. This is the third trip to Ziguinchor since he came to power in 2012, each time making promises that are never realised. He promised 250 billion Fcfa (approximately USD$ 500 million) in 2012, 23 billion in 2014 and billions more in 2015 in addition to a railway, the dredging of the Casamance River, roads and so many others. This list is far from being exhaustive.

The reality could not be more different. Many IDPs lack documentation, in particular there are thousands of children without birth certificates as a result of the disruption of the civil registry system. They have little or no access to social services, healthcare and education as a consequence. They also offer encounter limitations on free movement within their own country and are likely to end up in informal settlements and slum-like conditions.

There is an urgent need for the Senegalese government to organise a census in the southern region of Casamance in order to register the displaced population and issue identity documents for those who do not possess any. Consequent measures need to be taken to raise awareness of the importance of birth registration and this registration needs to be facilitated through community outreach, exemption of fees and the extension of timelines. This would avoid the rise of questions of citizenship and situations of statelessness.

Given the protracted character of the conflict in Casamance and the enormous challenges faced by the displaced population, it is high time the Senegalese government ratified the Kampala Convention and implemented it into domestic law. The Kampala Convention asks the States Parties to “respect and ensure respect and protection of the human rights of internally displaced persons, including humane treatment, non-discrimination, equality and equal protection of law.” Also, it demands States Parties to ensure assistance to IDPs by meeting their basic needs as well as allowing and facilitating rapid and unimpeded access by humanitarian organisations and personnel. Civil society organisations working in the field have highlighted the immense importance of the Convention. Together with the African Union, they need to implement all legal means in order to exert the necessary pressure on the Senegalese government to ratify the Kampala Convention.

Furthermore, broader geopolitical changes offer a possible opportunity to resolve the ongoing Casamance conflict. As an IDP told IRRI, “Now that Yahya Jammeh is no longer in power in the Gambia, we consider that it will facilitate the negotiations between the two parties, given that he was suspected for several years of supporting the rebels of the Casamance MFDC, especially the radical faction of Salif Sadio.” According to many sources, Salif Sadio was protected by the former president of the Gambia.

The Senegalese government is responsible for the plight of IDPs living within their territory; it is their unconditional obligation to provide assistance in terms of livelihood support programmes in the fields of agriculture, cattle breeding and commerce. Furthermore, psychological support systems and counselling services ought to be set up in order to treat the post-traumatic stress generated by the brutal displacement of a vulnerable population. It is crucial that the Senegalese government takes this opportunity to resolve the plight of those who are displaced. IDPs are human beings. They are extremely vulnerable but are entitled to the same human rights as everyone else. They deserve to be treated accordingly, with dignity and adequate protection and assistance to their precarious plight.

Programmes: Causes of Displacement, Statelessness, Citizenship and Right to a Nationality
Regions: Great Lakes Region, North and Horn of Africa, Southern Africa, Western Africa, Senegal, Other
Type: IRRI Blog, Library