By Femi Peters (The Gambia) – The Ministry of Interior and NGO affairs in partnership with Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) of the Norwegian Refugee Commission, UNHCR and The Gambia Refugee commission brought to awareness of the Parliamentarians and Senior government officials, the issues of the legal framework on the African Union Convention for Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) and the MP’s reaffirms commitment towards the legal instrument and its ratification.
Speaking at the Awareness campaign, Hon. Abdoulie Bojang, Speaker of the National Assembly assured the Gambian populace the dedication of the National assembly to the pan-African ideals that guided the solidarity among Africa countries and resolve to continue extending protection and humanitarian assistance to victims of forced displacement and search for durable solutions by enacting the relevant laws.
Making reference to the outcomes of the African Union Special Summit in Kampala Uganda in 2009, where the AU Convention was adopted. He said” since this is the first such convention, it has been discussed at the Pan African Parliament where The Gambia is a member like all other AU member states. Therefore, we welcome the decision for this training to take place for our members, thus enabling us all to have firsthand knowledge of the most salient features of the AU Kampala Convention.”
He finally thanked the organizers and the trainers for bringing the forum to The Gambia, and assured them that they would put to good use the knowledge acquired during the forum and use this knowledge in deliberation when the AU convention is finally presented to the National assembly for ratification.
The minister for Interior and NGO Affairs, Hon. Ousman Sonko giving the key note address during the one-day forum aimed at raising the awareness of lawmakers asked the parties concerned to be proactive in their orientation of the values of the convention for the people of the Gambia.
According to Hon. Sonko, the government’s commitment to finding sustainable and durable solutions for internally displaced persons echoes from its ample political and financial capital investment in supporting the internally displaced population, particularly in addressing the root causes and preventing forced displacement.
He noted that the IDMC-UNHCR forum was an important step in bringing succour to the many people who suffer internal displacement. He observed that the forum would also serve as a much-needed platform where legislators could update their knowledge on all the issues, roles and responsibilities of African governments to which the country is signatory.
According to him, a ministerial conference was organized in Ouagadougou in June 2006, during which the ministers came up with a set of recommendations and a declaration drawn from the theme protecting and assisting victims of forced displacement in Africa in accordance with the 1965 OAU Convention governing the aspect of refugee problems in Africa.
“In October 2009, the AU at its Special Summit in Uganda adopted the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Africa also known as the Kampala Convention. The adoption of this regional instrument has been widely welcome as a positive development for the protection of IDPs in the region.
“Therefore, the realization of today’s workshop is the end result of a long journey embarked upon by the African Union to address an apparently growing worldwide problem, which has seen millions of people displaced around the world and out of their traditional homes, towns and cities as a result of upheavals and conflicts,” he said.
According to Mr. Sonko, the issue of IDPs has now taken the centre of discussion and the need to find durable solutions is therefore government’s primary responsibility. He explained that many countries in present-day Africa have experienced economic losses due to natural disasters such as floods, storms, landsides, wildfires and drought, in some areas, and there have been in many of these instances, internal displacement of people.
“Internal displacement in The Gambia has also been mainly due to natural disasters such as floods, in the past few years, for instance, in the year 2010, floods were the reason for many displacements, and when such natural disasters occur, governments must react as we have done here in The Gambia and protect as well as come to the aid of the victims,” he added.
He said the need to cater for people displaced internally has buttressed the need to shift focus from mere ratification of the Kampala Convention to its full implementation.
“Therefore, the dissemination and implementation of the Convention, which will enter into force after ratification by at least 15 AU member states, will have to start. So far three countries in Africa have ratified the Convention and I hope with this exposure to the Kampala Convention, The Gambia will soon join the countries that have ratified.”
He also noted that The Gambia was also among the first countries to sign the AU Convention for the Protection and Assistance of IDPs in Africa and continues to take active part in addressing the challenges of forced displacement on the continent, noting that The Gambia participated in high level AU Summits on Refugees, Returnees and IDPs in Africa in 2008.
According to him, it is because of The Gambia government’s commitment that the AU Kampala Convention is relevant to the country, as the rationale to ratify it and implement it is to address the need to protect affected persons based on swift responses to flood-prone areas.
The Interior minister said that the training to the targeted group, which is coming after similar trainings in Liberia and Kenya will enable countries to access and domesticate the continent’s legal instrument thus making issues surrounding internal displacement better understood. He noted that once the Kampala Convention is ratified in The Gambia, work would begin on its implementation. “Unlike refugee matters, which are handled globally by the UNHCR, there is no legal document or body to handle issues relating to internally displaced persons and the AU Kampala Convention seeks to do just that for Africa Union member states.”
Hon. Sonko went on to note that the IDMC together with UNHCR have taken the lead to partner with The Gambia government to support its national responses to the new instrument. The convention, he said, is relevant to The Gambia as it would once and for all address the issue of IDPs.
He therefore encouraged all participants to kick start the national institutional processes needed to attain the speedy ratification and entry into force of the Kampala Convention and its implementation.
For his part, Mr. Jacopo Giorgi, the training and legal officer for the Internally Displaced Monitoring Commission (IDMC) expressed his appreciation towards the outcome of the Forum and noted that the Government of the Gambia had demonstrated its readiness to protect refugees, that is persons displaced by human rights violations, violence, armed conflicts in different countries in the region and seeking protection across borders’ on several occasions. As he also noted that internal displacement has also emerged as a prominent issue in the Gambia as a result of disasters.
Other speakers at the forum included Mr. Sekou Saho, head of the UNHCR office in the country; Mr. Seedy Touray, the commissioner of The Gambia Refugee Commission who also expressed similar sentiments and Pa Harry Jammeh Esq, solicitor general and legal secretary, Attorney General’s Chambers and Malcolm Duthie of the UN World Food Programme.