by Mike Asplet and Megan Bradley
Mike Asplet is an attorney currently working with the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement. Megan Bradley is a Fellow at the Brookings Institution, where she works with the Brookings-LSE Project.
The African Union’s Kampala Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Africa will hopefully come into force any day now. When it does, it will be the first regional treaty to comprehensively address the IDP issue, from preventing displacement to providing protection and assistance, and supporting durable solutions. The Kampala Convention represents a critical new tool for tackling some of the largest and most complex IDP situations in the world: some 10 million people are internally displaced across the continent, making up one third of the world’s IDP population.
The treaty reflects well-established normative frameworks, primarily the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which have to date provided the foundation for IDP protection and assistance efforts. However, the Kampala Convention also significantly advances the normative framework on internal displacement in several key areas. These include protection from arbitrary displacement; the responsibilities of the African Union, multinational companies and private security actors; and the right to a remedy for the wrongs associated with displacement, including the loss of housing, land and property (HLP). The question of remedies for lost HLP is particularly important, as land conflict is at the root of many internal displacement flows in Africa, and the resolution of hotly contested land claims represents a key barrier to solutions for thousands of IDPs.
On first glance, it doesn’t seem like the Kampala Convention has much to say about land issues, and in particular the restitution of displaced persons’ lost property. In light of the popularization of the (contested) UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons (the so-called “Pinheiro Principles”) and trends such as the now-common practice of explicitly addressing the restoration of displaced persons’ HLP rights in peace treaties, it is striking that there is no reference to restitution in the Kampala Convention. This omission is clearly deliberate. While many provisions from the Guiding Principles have been specifically incorporated into the Kampala Convention (in some places without amendment), the documents diverge considerably in their approach to question of HLP rights, and restitution in particular.