AU Summit on forced displacement to adopt groundbreaking convention

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 23 October 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Kampala, Uganda, African leaders are expected to sign today a groundbreaking legal framework that for the first time codifies the rights of people displaced within their own countries.

If endorsed, the instrument, called the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, would become the first, legally binding one to define - on a continental scale - the responsibilities that states and even armed groups have to protect and assist their own uprooted citizens.

Beyond armed conflict, the convention covers major causes of displacement, including obligations that governments have toward their citizens fleeing natural and man-made disasters and people removed from their land when development projects take over. People forced to flee will find in the convention the full range of rights they should be entitled to - before, during and after displacement.

For the convention to enter into force, at least 15 AU member states would have to ratify it.

Even as the number of refugees declines in Africa, the number of those who are displaced within their own countries continues to mount. There are now 11,6 million internally displaced people (IDP) in Africa, about 45 percent of the world's total IDPs. The continent also has some 2,659,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. Some two million people were newly displaced last year.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, who is in Kampala representing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, will hold a press conference on the outcome of the summit after the closing session around noon Kampala time.