AU leaders to sign treaty for displaced people

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pretoria - At least 46 African nations are expected to sign a declaration which is expected to be an effective legal instrument for the protection of refugees and internally displaced persons.

Details of the new law on the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons will be signed at a special African Union summit in Kampala, Uganda today.

Its formal name is the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, but it will be known simply as the Kampala Declaration which will bring relief to the continent's 17 million refugees and displaced persons.

However, to become law, the Kampala Declaration must be ratified by 15 African Union member states, which according to analysts can take years.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Assembly of Heads of State meeting, Home Affairs Deputy Minister Malusi Gigaba urged for more thorough analysis, understanding and resolution of the root causes of forced displacement in Africa.

Noting that conflict is one of the key causes of forced displacement, Gigaba told the Summit that reconciliation was the cornerstone of ending conflicts, adding that it helps unite nations.

"Reconciliation does not mean the disappearance of disagreement, but of physical conflict that results in mayhem, suffering and forced displacement.

"Reconciliation means that the warring parties to the conflict accept their differences and choose to live peacefully alongside each other, within an atmosphere of vibrant democratic debate and contestation. It places the national, regional and human interest above those of warring parties."

In dealing with reconciliation, Gigaba told the summit that several steps need to be undertaken within the concrete conditions pertaining in each country.

"No country is like another or others, and so there cannot be universal prescriptions for resolving conflicts, achieving reconciliation and post-conflict reconstruction and development," he said, adding that countries can learn from each others experiences.

Chairperson of the AU Commission Jean Ping informed the summit that the gathering was part of a process that had been sustained by ministers since they last met in Ouagadougou in 2006.

Dr Ping urged that this historic gathering should remind African Governments of their responsibilities to fulfil their obligations towards the IDP's.

He added that in this very specific framework, it is incumbent upon the Member States to ensure the validity of the Convention, via its fast ratification, adoption of national legislations permitting its implementation and availing the necessary resources.

Speaking on behalf of United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, commended the initiative of the AU and recalled that "disasters, particularly slow onset disasters such as drought, were also a major cause of internal displacement.

"Although Africa may not be a major contributor to climate change, it is especially vulnerable to its effects. An agreement at Copenhagen must provide for adaptation measures that address the heightened vulnerability of Africans to climate-change-induced displacement," Guterres said.

By the end of the summit today it is expected to deal with prevention and root causes, burden sharing and protracted situations, reconciliation and post conflict reconstruction, refugees in mixed migratory movements and natural disasters, climate change and food security.

The summit is being attended by Heads of State, foreign affairs ministers, ministers responsible for displaced persons and refugees, ambassadors, development partners, civil society organisations and other organisations and individuals dealing with the challenges of forced displacement. 46 member states are represented at the summit.