Uganda + 7 more

First ever AU summit in forced displacement starts

Kampala, Uganda 22 October 2009 - In January 2009, Africa was host to an estimated 11.6 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) out of the world's 26 million IDP's. It is with the aim to address forced displacement, which is avoidable by reducing this figure, that the African Union (AU) has organized the Special Summit on Refugees, Returnees and IDP's. Taking place from 19 to 23 October 2009, the event is hosted by the Republic of Uganda, in the capital city of Kampala.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Assembly of Heads of State meeting today, Ugandan President Mr. Yoweri Museveni 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, Mr. Museveni told the Summit that many mediators misdiagnose the causes of conflict and therefore prescribe the wrong solutions. Giving examples of countries from Southern Africa, the President said wars of independence, which were "just" wars, were resolved after the causes had been attended to.

President Museveni also commended the proposed African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of IDPs in Africa, which will be adopted at the end of the Summit tomorrow, saying that it is a serious document, which proposes methods that can be used to resolve the challenges of forced displacement.

The on-going summit is "a clear political message and a noteworthy signal to our own leaders and populations as well as to the international community" said Dr Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) today, who also recalled that Africa has the highest number of refugees in the world. Dr Ping said one out every two IDPs is from Africa.

The Chairperson informed the Summit that the gathering is part of a process that has 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 fulfill 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 the United Nations Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki Moon, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Antonio Guterres, commended the initiative of the AU and recalled that "disasters, particularly slow onset disasters such as drought, are also a major cause of internal displacement. And 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", he said.

This Summit 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. AU Heads of State and Government will sign and adopt the AU Convention for the Protection and Assistance of IDPs in Africa and the Kampala Solemn Declaration which should considerably change displaced persons lives by refraining from, prohibiting and preventing arbitrary displacement of populations. In addition, this first ever legal framework generates obligations to states parties.

The Summit is being attended by Heads of State; Ministers of Foreign Affairs; Ministers responsible for displaced persons and refugees; ambassadors, development partners; civil society organizations and other organizations and individuals dealing with the challenges of forced displacement. 46 member states are represented at the summit.

For more information on the Special Summit, contact Wynne Musabayana or Yaye Nabo Sene in Uganda on +256 784486047 or +256757087569.