(Oct. 27, 2009) On October 23, 2009, a new treaty was endorsed at a special summit of African Union heads of state, held in Kampala, Uganda. The treaty concerns the protection and treatment of internally displaced persons, and it will become effective once 15 nations ratify the document. (UN Human Rights Chief Hails New Pact to Protect Africa's Displaced, UN NEWS CENTRE, Oct. 23, 2009, available at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=32684&Cr=internally+displaced&Cr1=.)
The persons to be protected under the new agreement have had to leave their homes as a result of conflicts or natural disasters, but have not crossed national borders and so are not treated as refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said of the new agreement, “[t]he endorsement of the Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa marks a significant step forward in filling the unfortunate vacuum that has traditionally been the lot of internally displaced people.” Pillay also praised Africa for taking a leadership role by developing the first legally binding accord on the subject. (Id.)
The treaty was also hailed by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Andrej Mahecic, a spokesperson for that office, stated:
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. (Id).
According to the African Union, as of January 2009, there were about 11.6 million internally displaced persons on the continent, out of an estimated 26 million such people world-wide. (Press Release, African Union Release No. 8, First Ever AU Summit on Forced Displacement Starts (Oct. 22, 2009), available at http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/index/index.htm [follow link for Press Release].)