DRC has seen a dramatic escalation of internal displacement in the last two years, with 2 million newly displaced since the beginning of 2012, adding to hundreds of thousands living in protracted displacement. This is due in part to a rapid escalation in conflicts in the North Kivu, Orientale, Maniema and Katanga provinces. In the troubled Katanga province, for example, a drastic escalation in the violence has meant that internal displacement figures have rocketed from 64,100 IDPs in December 2011 to 500,300 in March this year - a staggering 682 per cent increase. Added to this, life for IDPs in Katanga is dire. They live in a desolate situation, lack access to basic services, have difficulties finding enough to eat and are exposed to diseases such as cholera, measles and malaria.
Will the Kampala Convention make any difference?
While the ratification of the Kampala Convention by the DRC government brings hope for displaced people in the long run, it will not make a difference in the short run. First of all, steps in the ratification process have still to be finalised; they have yet, for example, to file the necessary paperwork to the African Union, which, as has been seen with other countries, can take time. Until this happens, they remain a long way from becoming legally bound by the convention.
Secondly, the Kampala Convention is not the first treaty on IDPs to which the DRC has signed up to. The country is also a member of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region and signed its protocols on internal displacement in 2006, and subsequently became legally bound by it in 2008. Despite this, very little positive change has taken place for Congolese IDPs on the ground.
While ratification of the Kampala Convention is a first necessary step in the right direction, it is by no means enough; it is what the government does with the convention that will be the true test. The state is primarily responsible to provide assistance and protection to IDPs, both under the Great Lakes protocols as well as under the UN Guiding Principles yet so far the government of DRC has struggled to put this responsibility into practice.
For example, the government did designate the Ministry of Social Affairs, Humanitarian Action and National Solidarity to be in charge of humanitarian assistance to IDPs. In reality, however, the ministry lacks both the resources and the capacity to do so. Similar problems arise within other ministries delegated to help IDPs, such as the Ministry of the Interior. Here, a clear division of roles and coordination is lacking meaning that efforts go into political discussions around responsibilities instead of actual assistance. As a result, the government is relatively absent from the response to internal displacement and for IDPs such as those in Katanga, they have to rely on external assistance from the likes of the UN and international NGOs, which is frequently underfunded and insufficient.
The Kampala Convention as a sign of renewed commitment?
While the ratification of the Kampala Convention will make no immediate impact on the lives of DRCs’ IDPs, what it does perhaps signify is a clearer commitment from the government towards protecting its citizens. On ratifying the Kampala Convention, the state commits itself to being held accountable in a more transparent way. This increases the pressure on the government to continue to strive further in its efforts to respond to those people being displaced inside the borders of their country.
Further, the ratification of the Kampala Convention may also provide renewed momentum and commitment to the Great Lakes protocol and, specifically, to the development of national legislation on displacement. Despite being bound under the protocol to adopt such legislation, as of today - more than five years on - the DRC has not yet adopted a national legal framework on IDPs, although a draft is being developed and is close to finalisation.
Finally, the Kampala Convention clearly sets out a number of obligations towards IDPs that the Congolose government has accepted. But perhaps more importantly, it sets out goals, standards and objectives towards which a collective response to internal displacement should point. Without such benchmarks and goals, fundamental changes are difficult to achieve. For example, the collective response to internal displacement in DRC, as in many other countries, has focused on dealing with its consequences. Under the Kampala Convention, the state has accepted to "prevent or mitigate, prohibit and eliminating root causes of internal displacement".
The Kampala Convention cannot prevent the conflicts taking place in the DRC, nor will it signify an end of the violence that has wracked the country for two decades and forced millions from their homes. What it can do, despite this, is to help bring attention, focus and resources to DRC’s efforts in making sure that if and when a person is displaced in the country, that they are more consistently helped, their rights are recognised, and, that ultimately, their journey out of displacement becomes more clearly signposted.
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