Human Rights

African Union : The African Union IDPs Convention: a unique opportunity to strengthen the protection of the internally displaced in Africa

The Convention would be the first international instrument of its kind and would send a signal to the rest of the world about the seriousness with which Africa, home to around half of the global total of internally displaced persons (IDPs), considers the issue.

Over the last three years, the text of the Convention evolved through dialogue among a Group of Experts and the Foreign Ministers of AU member states. A number of African and international non-government organisations (NGOs) followed this process closely and raised concerns about the draft both publicly and directly to those responsible for its final language.

As the Convention nears the point of adoption, eleven leading African and international NGOs outline their โ€˜implementation agendaโ€™ โ€“ those key steps which AU member states should take to convert the Convention from a legal text on paper into an effective instrument enabling improvements to IDPsโ€™ security and welfare in practice.

Step 1 โ€“ ratification of the Convention

First and foremost, AU member states should move quickly to ratify the Convention, which only enters into force once 15 states have done so. The momentum behind the process to date will ebb away if states prove slow to sign and ratify the Convention.

Step 2 โ€“ preparing the ground for implementation

Under the terms of the Convention, upon ratification, States Parties are obliged to

National governments should create a robust legal and institutional framework to enable the implementation of the Convention. At a minimum, national laws must not weaken or contradict the Convention. National laws can (and should be encouraged to) go further to strengthen protections for IDPs by sticking closely to the Convention where its language is strong, but going beyond it where it is weak.

In developing implementing legislation and structures, several African states have a head start: some, including Uganda, a country with one of largest IDP populations in Africa, already have an existing IDP law or policy. In addition, since it came into force in June 2008, eleven AU member states are already party to the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region, together with its associated Protocol on the Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons, and Protocol on the Property Rights of Returning Populations. Those states with some form of existing IDP legal and institutional framework serve as test cases for the rest of Africa as it comes to the same standard of legal framework with the adoption of the IDPs Convention. The AU Commission should facilitate a process by which states can share their current experiences in applying IDP-focused policies.

Step 3 โ€“ fully-resourced implementation of the Convention

Implementing the Convention demands that signatory states are: prepared and equipped to intervene to prevent displacement, to respond to situations of displacement by providing protection and assistance and to enable the return, resettlement and reintegration of those who have been internally displaced.

For each stage of their response to situations of internal displacement, states must ensure the adequate resourcing of the various agencies involved. When states are unable or unwilling themselves to protect and assist IDPs, they must enable others to do so on their behalf, be they international (AU or UN) agencies or non-governmental organisations.

Implementing the Convention must be done in accordance with a number of fundamental principles:

Step 4 โ€“ an efficient and transparent system for monitoring implementation

Effective systems for monitoring implementation serve to highlight inadequate attempts at implementation with a view to ensuring greater compliance with the terms of the Convention. More positively, monitoring implementation allows for the sharing of experience and good practice among member states.

States should establish systems to regularly review their performance in regard to the Convention and make public the results of such assessments. States should adopt a cooperative attitude to national and international NGOs involved in providing services to IDPs. Entering into regular dialogue with NGOs allows better identification of IDPsโ€™ needs and develops good practice in meeting such needs.

The AU Commission should solicit regular updates from States Parties and itself conduct or commission research into the effects of the Convention. The African Commission on Human and Peoplesโ€™ Rights Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa should maintain an overview of implementation of the Convention across Africa and be enabled and better resourced to undertake regular country visits.

Finally, in parallel with ratification of the Convention itself, AU member states should also ratify the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights: where states have ratified both this Protocol and the Convention, the African Court of Justice and Human Rights would become a key mechanism for ensuring compliance with the Convention.

The role of the international community Donor governments and UN agencies with an interest in preventing and responding to internal displacement should increase the quantity and improve the quality of the support that they provide IDPs.

In particular, donor governments should:

UNHCR itself should:

Endorsed by

Amnesty International Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, USA Human Rights Watch IDP Action, UK Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, The Gambia International Federation for Human Rights Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, USA Pax Christi International Refugees International Resolve Uganda Zimbabwe Exiles Forum

Notes :

[1] The number of African IDPs โ€“ approximately 13 million out of a global total of 26 million โ€“ exceeds the number of African refugees, that is, those who have fled across an international border, by 5 times. There are more IDPs in five African countries โ€“ Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda โ€“ than there are refugees in the rest of the world; data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre:

[2] As it stands, the Convention has three key weaknesses: (a) the opening clause requiring states to refrain from and prevent discrimination is too narrow, focusing only on โ€œethnic, racial or religiousโ€ factors, rather than mirroring Guiding Principle 4, which outlaws discrimination of any kind. The Convention lacks the positive assertion of Guiding Principle 1 that IDPs โ€œshall enjoy โ€ฆthe same rights and freedoms under international and domestic law as do other persons in their country.โ€ At most, it creates a negative obligation on states to โ€œprevent political, social, cultural and economic exclusion and marginalization, likely to cause displacementโ€; (b) the Convention itemises rules of behaviour for non-state armed actors but, by definition, such non-state actors cannot be party to the Convention; (c) language about monitoring and compliance is vague. The draft envisages the establishment of a Conference of States Parties for the purposes of monitoring and reviewing implementation, but does not specify its functions or clarify reporting mechanisms. See, for example, the public statement, Internally Displaced Persons in Africa need a strong IDPs Convention, endorsed by Amnesty International, IDP Action, International Federation for Human Rights and Refugees International, 6 June 2008; See also the longer analysis of IDP Action, From Voluntary Principles to Binding Standards, 9 January 2009;

[3] Technically, the IDP Protocol of the Great Lakes Pact is the first binding multilateral instrument in the world focused on the issue of internal displacement, though its reach is limited to the eleven signatory states, while the AU IDPs Convention would potentially include all 53 AU member states. The objectives of the Great Lakes IDP Protocol are threefold: (i) to establish a legal framework for the adoption of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and a legal basis for their implementation in national law; (ii) to ensure legal protection of the physical and material needs of IDPs; (iii) to reinforce member statesโ€™ commitment to prevent and eliminate the root causes of displacement. The eleven signatories are Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia. See The Great Lakes Pact and the Rights of Displaced People: A Guide for Civil Society; Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and the International Refugee Rights Initiative, September 2008.


When: 7/2/2014

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