UN High Commissioner for Refugees lauds Africa Refugee Convention, at 40, for saving millions of lives

Press Releases, 18 June 2014

The following statement is attributable to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres:

"This Friday, 20 June, is not only World Refugee Day, it also marks the 40th anniversary of the coming into effect of a ground-breaking convention which has saved the lives of millions of people on the African continent. I am speaking, of course, of the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa.

This vital document, which has been signed and ratified by 45 African countries, built on the 1951 Refugee Convention. Not only did it expand the definition of refugee to include victims of conflict and violence, it also promoted burden-sharing and placed a new emphasis on repatriation (helping refugees to return to their homes).

Over four decades it has allowed millions of people who fled war, civil strife and massive abuses of human rights to find safety in neighbouring countries in Africa. The African Refugee Convention, as it is more commonly known, is considered one of the most generous and flexible documents on refugee protection.

The OAU Convention's expanded definition of refugee and the objective circumstances causing people to flee inspired the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees of 1984 in Latin America, and all of these regional documents have further strengthened the concepts of refugee protection.

Since 1974, the Organization of African Union (OAU) has become the African Union. I am proud to say I was in Kampala in 2009 when the AU once again broke new ground by adopting the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa. This Kampala Convention marked a milestone in preventing and addressing one of the continent's most pressing humanitarian crises internal displacement.

Four decades ago when the OAU Convention came into effect, Africa was gripped by wars of independence and proxy wars fought by Cold War powers. Today it's wracked by violence of a different kind. Rebels and militias fight for territory and resources oil, gold, diamonds and minerals, fuelling the war economy with these proceeds.

African countries have consistently kept their borders open to refugees and have understood indeed pioneered the concept of burden-sharing. At a time of so many humanitarian emergencies, the OAU Convention and the Kampala Convention show us the importance of upholding human rights. And on this momentous anniversary, they issue a call to us in the rest of the world to come to the aid of the communities in Africa and elsewhere that today are shouldering such a disproportionate burden of hosting refugees."

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