Manual The international protection of internally displaced persons

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Laws protecting internally displaced persons (IDPs)

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Forgot your password? The best that could be achieved within the context of the accepted rules of international law was the sheltering of such persons as were able to liberate themselves from the territorial jurisdiction of a persecutory State. None of the three factors which dictated the exclusion of internal refugees- limited resources, concern about State participation, or respect for sovereignty- was so much a matter of conceptual principle, as it was a reflection of the limited reach of international law.

There are diverse computations of the actual number of internally displaced people in the world today. However, there is a broad international consensus that the global population of internally displaced people stands somewhere in the region of 25 to 30 million: up to 16 million in Africa, six or seven million in Asia, around five million in Europe [16] and up to three million in the Americas. Unlike the collection of refugee statistics, a task undertaken by UNHCR, no single UN agency has assumed responsibility for the collection of figures on internally displaced populations.

The question of internal displacement is also a politically sensitive one for sovereign states. Further, internally displaced people may themselves be reluctant to report to or register with the local authorities. Finally, there are some very obvious obstacles to the collection of data in areas affected by ongoing armed conflicts. In the combat zones of Liberia, Somalia and Zaire, for example, the international presence is minimal or non-existent, making it extremely difficult even to provide rough estimates of the number of people who have been displaced.

Thus in Sierra Leone, the statistics have been based on food aid beneficiary lists, and probably reflect only a fraction of the displaced population. In other situations, such as Chechnya, internally displaced people are highly mobile, again making it very difficult to determine their exact numbers at any moment in time.

Regardless of the figure used, the magnitude of the number becomes even more apparent when it is contrasted with the smaller figure of 17 million refugees worldwide. The number of internally displaced persons is still more unsettling given that refugees are covered by a fairly extensive system of international protection, [19] whereas internally displaced persons have no such system of protection. One of the principal difficulties encountered in establishing a more systematic approach to the plight of internally displaced people is the debatable nature of the concept itself.

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Chimni comments that any definition would have to avoid the twin pitfalls of being overly broad or narrow. In the former place, practically anyone would qualify as an IDP. Some analysts limit the term to people who have left their usual place of residence in the context of large-scale movements, and in circumstances similar to those which create refugees. Others, however, tend to employ the concept in relation to all those people who have moved within their own country for reasons that are not entirely voluntary.

This includes, for example, changes of residence induced by environmental and industrial disasters, as well as the forcible relocation and population distribution programmes which governments often employ to counter security threats and to implement large-scale development projects. On the other hand, if the definition were overly narrow it may leave too many people outside the protection net.

In that case, the very purpose of having a separate legal regime would be lost. A special regime would also need to address the question as to when an individual ceases to be a displaced person.

Video statement: UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons

Even assuming that a definition of the concept can be agreed upon, it would undoubtedly be difficult to apply in practice. The definition of internal displacement generally excludes from its scope those situations in which people are obliged to move as a result of environmental disasters, development projects and infrastructural schemes. For although such people often suffer from material and psychological hardship, they may also continue to benefit from the protection of the state, and may even receive some form of compensation from it.

In general, there is a strong case to be made for the argument that internally displaced people do not necessarily have to return to their original place of residence in order to find a solution to their plight, as long as they benefit from the protection of the state and are able to enjoy a satisfactory degree of physical, material and legal security in the location where they have settled. In South Africa, for example, the number of internally displaced people is said by some sources to be in the region of four million, although this total includes those who have been uprooted or relocated over a period of 30 years, many of whom are now fully settled and integrated in their place of residence.

The concept of internally displaced people — which is problematic enough in any case — clearly loses even more of its value when used in this indiscriminate manner. At present, there is no internationally agreed definition of who is an internally displaced person. Achieving one is essential both for the development of accurate statistics and information and for comprehensive and coherent action. This definition has been described as both too broad and too narrow. Including victims of natural disasters is said to make it unduly broad. Persons fleeing armed conflict, internal strife, and systematic violations of human rights would, if they were able to cross a border, qualify as refugees both under the Organisation of African Unity OAU Convention and the Cartagena Declaration, and, arguably, in many cases, under the narrower definition of the Refugee Convention as well.

But persons uprooted by natural disasters would not: they generally are not in need of international protection of their human rights. Moreover, their governments and the international community are usually willing- if not always able- to provide them with assistance. The argument for retaining them in the definition is based essentially on cases where governments respond to natural disasters by persecuting certain groups on political or ethnic grounds or by violating their human rights in other ways. In other countries, persons have also been displaced because of a combination of natural causes and racial, social or political reasons.

Maintaining natural disasters in the text, it is argued, would assure protection for such persons. A better solution, however, might be to qualify the term so that it covers cases involving human right violations and persecution but not all victims of natural disasters. The same reasoning would apply to man- made disasters, for example, ecological or nuclear disasters.

Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons

It is the latter cases that should be covered by the definition. The same would be true for development projects that cause displacement. The quantitative and time qualifiers in the definition, on the other hand, make it unduly narrow. Countless numbers in Burma, Iraq and Ethiopia have been forcibly moved by their governments on political and ethnic grounds: they did not flee. Nor did Bosnian Muslims forcibly expelled from their homes in Banja Luka and other areas of Bosnia on ethnic and religious grounds. Such persons should explicitly be included as internally displaced.

The definition essentially should help identify persons who should be of concern to the international community because they are basically in refugee- like situations [25] within their own countries, and their own governments are unwilling or unable to protect and assist them. Some development agencies have proposed expanding the definition to encompass those who migrate because of poverty or other economic causes.

Internally displaced persons

But this would add millions of persons to the definition who have not fled or been forced out from their homes and whose needs are best addressed by development programmes generated by national and international agencies. The internally displaced should be defined as persons or groups of persons who have been forced to flee, or leave, their homes or places of habitual residence as a result of armed conflict, internal strife and systematic violations of human rights, as well as natural or man- made disasters involving one or more of these elements, and who have not crossed an internationally recognised State border.

What should make internally displaced persons of concern to the international community should be the coercion that impels their movement, their subjection to human rights abuse as a result of this uprootedness, and the lack of protection available within their own countries.

When an internally displaced person ceases to be displaced also needs clarification.

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Conventional wisdom would have it that the voluntary return of the displaced to their homes or their re- integration elsewhere marks the end of internal displacement. But if protection is largely lacking in these areas and their land and homes are occupied by others, can internal displacement be said to be over? In Angola, for example, groups of internally displaced persons voluntarily transported back to their home areas found that they could not remain there because all infrastructure had been destroyed and they had no means of sustaining themselves.

The mere act of return therefore did not end their internal displacement. Determining when internal displacements is ended should go beyond merely registering whether return or relocation has taken place. It should include whether the returns or relocations are reasonably viable and whether basic security and survival are assured. A more difficult theoretical and practical problem arises, however, when States violate these binding norms.

How then can the U. The last thing the United Nations needs is a new ideological controversy. With specific regard to the situation of refugees and IDPs in camps HROs should make every effort to remain in regular contact with camp populations and with local authorities. Through a regular presence and an understanding of the situation and vulnerability of camp populations, HROs can make a significant contribution to the respect of their human rights. As camp populations frequently receive assistance from a wide variety of different international organisations and other sources, co-ordination between the human rights operation and these partners is essential see below.

As a priority, HROs should remember that they should never, through their action or presence, do harm to an individual. If it is likely that a refugee or IDP may be endangered by a HRO's enquiries into events that have occurred outside or inside the camp, then no attempt should be made to obtain the information. Notwithstanding this essential point, HROs may find that refugees and IDPs are a very useful source of information on the human rights situation in the country or region from which they have been displaced.

This information can improve the United Nations' understanding of a problem and can help in identifying solutions.

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The testimony of refugees and IDPs may also be of use to International Tribunals in their investigation of certain types or categories of human rights violations. A key purpose of gathering information from refugees and IDPs in camps may be to help prepare for the future return of the displaced community to their homes. As discussed in greater detail in Chapter XI "Monitoring and protecting the human rights of returning refugees returnees and Internally Displaced Persons IDPs " , United Nations human rights operations, in the countries and regions to which displaced people return, can perform an essential function in facilitating the return process.

A human rights operation will be well placed to help the reintegration of the returnee population into a community, and their long term protection, by undertaking human rights promotion and training activities. A thorough understanding of the human rights situation in the country or region of return, gained through interviews with camp populations, is an essential base for such intervention. The information might include details on:. The dates, location and nature of human rights violations such as the killing of civilians by soldiers.

The alleged perpetrators of human rights violations. The identities of victims of human rights violations. The ongoing human rights situation in areas to which United Nations personnel have no access.