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African States Sign Declaration on Forced Displacement

By VOA News
23 October 2009

About 46 African nations have agreed to a declaration obligating governments to protect and help people displaced by violence and other acts.

The agreement was ratified Friday during a summit sponsored by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) in Uganda's capital, Kampala.

UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says foreign ministers or heads of state from 17 African nations signed the declaration, though all 46 nations participating in the summit have agreed to the declaration.

Fleming says the number of signatories at Friday's meeting is not as important as having the agreement ratified within each of the participating countries. She says the agreement is like any other treaty and must be approved by the participating nations' legislatures.

The declaration establishes the rights of civilians in conflict zones and the legal obligations that governments and armed rebel groups have to protect and assist non-combatants uprooted from their homes.

There are about 17 million refugees and internally displaced people across the African continent.

Only six African heads of state took part in the meeting, but officials say they expect enough legislatures will ratify the convention to put it into force.

The declaration needed to be ratified by at least 15 African Union member states to pass.

Almost all of what is in the proposed declaration is already part of international law, in documents such as the Geneva Convention and the Declaration of Human Rights. But legal experts say its significance is that it is a concept developed by Africans to solve what is seen as a serious impediment to Africa's development.

Many Africans fled their homes because of prolonged conflicts in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Others have fled their country to escape extended political and economic turmoil, as is the case in Zimbabwe.

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