Perhaps I should start by addressing the title. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are people that have been forced to flee their homes but unlike refugees, IDPs remain within their country’s borders. While refugees are eligible to receive international protection and help under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, the international community is not under the same legal obligation to protect and assist the IDPs. This make the IDPs the most vulnerable group among the human race.
According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the IDPs often have no or only limited access to food, employment, education and health care. The IDMC further states:
“…large number of IDPs are caught in desperate situations amidst fighting or in remote and inaccessible areas cut-off from international assistance. Others have been forced to live away from their homes for many years, or even decades, because the conflicts that caused their displacement remained unresolved.”
IDMC estimates that there are 27.1 million IDPs around the world. Of this figure, nearly 11.6 million are in Africa. This makes Africa the most affected continent. The statistics are bad enough; what is even worse however, is the fact that these are not just figures; they are human beings. It is hard enough, if not impossible for me to imagine their daily routine while sitting in front of my computer with a cup of tea by my side.
It is absolutely appalling that African Union (AU) and its discarded predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) never bothered to address this issue for their combined 46 years of existence. The AU finally brought the issue on the agenda last year at a special summit that took place in Kampala, the Ugandan capital on 23rd October 2009.
The summit resolved that African governments will have to look after their displaced citizens. Perpetrators of violence that force civilians out of their homes will be liable for prosecution by domestic courts. The summit also took a strong stand against armed rebel groups and promised that the rebel groups will equally be answerable for the displacement of the people. The summit called for special protection and assistance for women, children and other vulnerable people.
This sounds very good and promising if not for the recent report(s) of women in the DRC being raped under the noses of United Nations peace keeping forces and the subsequent apology by UN’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. Promise is only a comfort to a fool, so they say. Indeed, according to the Economist, the only serious current affairs publication to report on the October 2009 AU Kampala Summit, the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni described the resolutions as a “start.” Arguing: “a piece of paper would not bring immediate relief to displaced women in Darfur.”
Museveni is right. But the cynicism of his observation owes a lot to the fact that if the resolutions of this summit were to be implemented Museveni himself may be reliable for persecution for his failure to protect an estimated 2 million people displaced by the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda. Rightly or wrongly, critics questioned the logic of having this summit in Uganda in the first place.
Perhaps the major challenge to the implementation of the agreements of the summit is get all African countries to sign the agreement. Until today Sudan has not done so, yet Sudan is a crucial country insofar as the issue of IDPs is concerned. The country has nearly 50 percent of IDPs in Africa and the largest than any single country in the world.
Of course figures presented here include people displaced by natural disasters, but the displacement of people that has taken place in Kenya and Zimbabwe in recent years, for example, is man-made and avoidable. While the International Criminal Court (ICC) are dealing with the Kenyan case, the AU have done very little in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwe president was indeed among the delegates to the Kampala Summit.
The first step to sorting out any problem is to acknowledge its existence. African Union have done well to finally recognise the plight of the IDPs. Now the organisation must leave by its own words and sort out this issue once and for all. It is not a simple task, yes, but it is not an impossible one. Mozambique has no IDPs today, only 18 years after atrocious 15 years of civil war that revenged the country. It can also be done elsewhere. To do this, the organisation must forgo the current culture of impunity and punish all the perpetrators of these atrocities.
PLEASE NOTE: this an updated article – it was first published here last October, 2009.