Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement

On the Occasion of the Commemoration of the Entry into Force of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention)

Statement by Chaloka Beyani

(6 December 2012, ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA):

Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Chair of the PRC Sub-Committee on Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons, AU Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons and Migrants in Africa, Excellencies, Esteemed colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an honor and a source of great satisfaction for me to be among you today to celebrate together the coming into force of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, also known as the Kampala Convention.

I would like to congratulate the African Union Commission for having embarked on a consultative process that led to the formulation, adoption, and now the entry into force of the Kampala Convention. I wish to acknowledge the invaluable role of the Department of Political Affairs of the African Union Commission, the support of the African Union Commission Experts, the unflinching support of UNHCR, ICRC, OCHA, NRC/IDMC, the Office of my predecessor the former Representative of the Secretary General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, and many others. It was a great privilege for me to have participated in the preparation and negotiation of the Convention, with their encouragement, wisdom, and commitment.

Allow me to say a few words about this 5 year consultative process, which began with Executive Council decision 129 V 2004,  in which the Executive Council of the African Union (AU) requested the African Union Commission to elaborate a legal framework for the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons in Africa.  It was a period of many initiatives on internal displacement in Africa.  The  11 Member States of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region, had also just begun to deliberate on a Protocol for the Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons, which they adopted in Nairobi in 2006. In the same period, ECOWAS convened a regional conference on internally displaced persons with a view to concluding a Protocol. These processes were mutually reinforcing.

The preparation of the Kampala Convention started with a Concept Note that was presented to and discussed by a group of experts in 2005. An annotated framework of the draft Convention was prepared at the same meeting. We recall with fond memories that it was in Burkina Faso, that this annotated framework was adopted by the Second AU Ministerial Conference on Refugees and IDPs in May 2006. With that green light, the drafting of the Convention then began in earnest. It was subsequently negotiated by an Expert Group composed of legal experts of the Member States, and the text adopted by the 3rd AU Ministerial Conference on Refugees and IDPs in Addis Ababa. As a testimony of the importance of this Convention, the text adopted by the Ministerial Conference was also opened for discussion by the Executive Council of Foreign Ministers of the AU, and the AU Special Summit of Heads of State on Refugees, Returnees and IDPs, which culminated in its  adoption by the same Summit, held in Kampala in October 2009.

Upon adoption, the Convention was immediately open for signature and ratification by the Member States. The ratification process moved smoothly, in large part due to the fact that the Convention had been widely and laboriously negotiated so as to reflect the positions of the Member States. Indeed, the negotiation process was conducted with a view to achieving consensus and common understanding on the provisions of the Convention. Where consensus had not been reached, the draft provisions were bracketed until accommodating language could be established. The provisions on armed groups were such an example, as were those relating to  development induced displacement.

Flowing from this, African States have full ownership of this landmark Convention and must now  strive to implement it so that can  express the political will for which it was formulated, negotiated, and adopted. A robust process of promoting the ratification of the Convention was undertaken by many, including the UN, civil society actors, and most notably of course, the African Union Commission, beginning with the Member States of the Southern African Development Community, Member States in East an Central Africa, and the Member States of the Economic Community of West African States.

Today, Africa has achieved a milestone and demonstrated its leadership in addressing one of the most pressing humanitarian issues in the world.  With the coming into force of the Kampala Convention - we see the birth of the first ever binding regional instrument on internal displacement. But, I believe that the significance of the Kampala Convention goes beyond Africa – as an international model this comprehensive Convention represents the culmination of over two decades of work during which Governments, civil society and the international community have sought to improve the way we address the plight of millions of internally displaced persons across the globe.

Out of the 26 million persons internally displaced due to armed conflict, generalized violence or human rights violations in 2011, an estimated 10 million were in Africa, while  over half a million more were internally displaced due to sudden onset natural disasters, such as floods.*  While precise figures are not yet available, the continent is also impacted by displacement related to slow onset natural disasters, such as desertification and more frequent droughts, associated with the effects of climate change. Through the Kampala Convention, the continent has shown commitment, vision and determination to address the problem of internal displacement in Africa through a common framework which they own, and which meets with rigorous international and regional standards. The Preamble recognizes the magnitude of the phenomena of displacement, including that caused by natural disasters, lays out the vision of the Member States to tackle displacement, and makes reference to the founding legal instruments on which it is based, e.g., the UN Charter, the AU Constitutive Act, and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which balance state sovereignty with state responsibility to protect and assist IDPs.

The Kampala Convention provides a further instrument with which to achieve key objectives of the African Union, including the political and socio-economic integration of the continent, the promotion of democratic institutions, good governance and human rights, and peace and security in Africa.

The unique ‘added value’ of this Convention lies in how comprehensive it is and the manner in which it addresses many of the key challenges of our times, and indeed, of Africa.  If implemented well, it can help States and the African Union address both current and potential future internal displacement related to conflict, but also natural disasters and other effects of climate change, development, and even mega trends such as population growth and rapid urbanization.  All of these phenomena are already affecting Africa and will continue to impact its future. By providing a solid legal framework for dealing with the complex dynamics of internal displacement provoked by these different phenomena, the Kampala Convention will contribute to the integration of Africa as it seeks common regional solutions to these issues. And it will contribute to enhanced human rights and good governance as it puts in place legal standards and institutions at all levels which will ensure that governments are better prepared to address internal displacement when it is unavoidable, to prevent it when this is possible, and to facilitate solutions when it is not.

Excellencies, the Kampala Convention also contributes to the goal of the African Union to promote peace and security across this vast continent. In many contexts, the situation of internally displaced persons affects the stability of states.  This is especially the case in post conflict and crisis situations, as I have seen through my various country missions over the course of my last two years on this mandate. In these situations, the Kampala Convention can contribute to stabilizing displaced populations and consolidating peace through the specific obligations it sets out to States and other actors - obligations relating to humanitarian assistance, compensation, assistance in finding lasting solutions to displacement and facilitating access by internally displaced persons to the full range of their human rights. Equally relevant are its provisions setting out the responsibilities of non-state actors and armed groups to not interfere with the rights of IDPs, and to facilitate solutions so as to end displacement.  The Convention therefore provides protection to IDPs in times of both peace and conflict, and sets out obligations in this respect for both State and non-state armed groups. It is now necessary to ensure that advocacy and awareness raising efforts reach out to all actors as well, including non-state armed groups so that they too are aware of their obligations under the Convention.

I would like to mention two other central aspects of this historic Convention, namely its coverage of the whole cycle or phases of displacement, and its strategic focus on its ‘operationalization’ and implementation at the national level. The Convention is comprehensive in that it provides legal protection for IDPs throughout all the phases of internal displacement, including steps States must take to prevent displacement, to assist and protect IDPs once they are displaced, and to assist IDPs in finding a sustainable solution to their displacement.  Within this context, article 12 on compensation to IDPs is also noteworthy.

The Kampala Convention is also fundamentally directed at implementation and sets out the obligations of the State parties, but also of the African Union, international organizations and members of armed groups, with regard to prevention as well as all the phases of internal displacement. Central amongst these, States Parties to the Kampala Convention have undertaken specific obligations to allocate resources, and to incorporate its provisions in domestic law. The adoption of national laws and policies, or in some cases the amendment of these to render them consistent with Convention standards, - and of course the actual implementation of these laws and policies to national internal displacement situations is what will make this Convention real and its provisions meaningful.

Based on the spirit of partnership on which the Kampala Convention is founded, it is vital that the international and donor communities now support African states, the African Union and civil society in raising awareness and building the capacities necessary to implement this landmark Convention. This is and will remain one of the key priorities of my mandate over the next few years. Much work now remains to be done, but we now have an opportunity to address the internal displacement challenges in Africa with renewed solidarity, a clear sense of purpose and common standards which are underpinned by both regional and international human rights principles.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, an impressive total of 37 states have already signed the Kampala Convention. With the coming into force of the Convention today, on the 6th of December 2012, I urge all State signatories of the Convention to act within the spirit of this Convention. But I also wish to take this opportunity to urge those states that have not yet done so, to sign and to ratify this historic Convention, which embodies principles of good governance, respect for human rights and preparedness – principles which can prevent and alleviate the human crisis related to internal displacement, provide solutions, and restore dignity and rights to affected populations across the continent.

The pride of Africa in giving birth to the Convention should be followed by real deeds and measures to implement it.  A key priority now is the development and adoption by Member States of  national legal and policy frameworks envisaged in Article 3(2) of the Convention. My mandate stands ready to continue to work and cooperate towards this end with Member States, the African Union Commission and its partners, the Special Rapporteur on refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons and migrants in Africa, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

*2011 figures on internal displacement are drawn from data available through the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

Chaloka Beyani, a Zambian national and professor of international law at the London School of Economics, was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons by the Human Rights Council in September 2010.