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The African Union Adopts a Convention on IDPs

African leaders met in Kampala, Uganda for a four-day summit on refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons in Africa from 19-23 October. The outcome of this summit was the adoption of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa.  Yusuf Hassan is the Senior Liaison Officer at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Melissa Fleming is the head of the Communications Service and Spokesperson for UNHCR. Hassan and Fleming wrote this article while reporting from Kampala, Uganda.

African leaders meeting in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, adopted a seminal convention Friday that will provide legal protection and assistance to millions of people displaced within their own countries by conflicts and natural calamities on the continent. (…)

The new African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, is the first legal instrument of its kind in the world. It defines the obligations that states, and even armed groups, have to protect and assist their own uprooted citizens.

Forty-six African nations unanimously adopted the landmark convention while 17 heads of state and government, and foreign ministers signed it, including the presidents of Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Somalia, and the prime ministers and vice presidents of Burundi, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Rwanda. The convention still requires ratification by a minimum of 15 countries.

In the official summit declaration, the AU heads of state and government vowed to take measures to "prevent and finally eliminate from our continent the occurrence of forced displacement of people arising from conflict and natural disasters." (…)

The convention, in its preamble, underscores the need to "promote and strengthen regional and national measures to prevent or mitigate, prohibit and eliminate root causes of internal displacement as well as provide for durable solutions." It notes the specific protection expertise of UNHCR and asks the organization to continue and reinforce its role in the protection of and assistance to IDPs. (…)

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres told a closing press conference that "this represents the concept of 'responsibility to protect' in action. It demonstrates that national sovereignty is fully compatible with the responsibility to protect." He added that the convention serves as a reminder that the responsibility to protect its own citizens is first and foremost an individual state responsibility and that where the state fails to do so, there is a collective African responsibility to act.

Read the full article.
Read the full text of the Convention.

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