A Vision of the Internally Displaced People’s Rights
From the Irene Humanitarian Network
The number of displaced people in the world, who left their homes and became destitute inside their homeland as a result of armed conflicts, has reached 26 million people. Moreover, another more than 50 million people become displaced as a result of natural disasters, while experts forecast that the effects of climate change, population growth, and poverty may increase the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) to more than 200 million people by the year 2050.
The suffering of IDPs in most cases occupies a large portion of the humanitarian relief operations, particularly after the first International Manual was prepared, addressing the issue of displaced societies in 1998, which carried the title “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.”
Last week, a high level conference was held in Oslo in Norway to evaluate the first ten years since establishing the principles and to evaluate what could be done in future.
Unlike the International Humanitarian Law, the thirty items which comprise these principles are considered “a flexible law,” meaning that they are legally non-binding, but rather address a large group of human rights and humanitarian laws.
Rights and Duties
Among the important points which the principles stressed is the concept that IDPs have equal rights. Being displaced does not necessarily mean curtailing the rights of the displaced person as a citizen. Furthermore, the principles indicate that governments are directly responsible for protecting their citizens, and when they are unable to do so or choose not to do so, it becomes the duty of the international community to guarantee the protection of the displaced.
Walter Kalin, the United Nations’ Secretary General’s representative for Human Rights on displaced people stated that during the period preceding the establishment of the guiding principles, humanitarian operations overlooked the displaced, saying: “They were totally ignored. They are not refugees [because they did not cross national borders], and hence were not included in humanitarian programs.”
Kalin explained that it was recently recognized that the displaced have special needs that should be attended to, saying: “If you are not displaced, then this means you do not need to find shelter, and there is no need to worry about how you earn your daily sustenance or retrieve your belongings.”
The guiding principles established a group of standards which governments, UN organizations, and international relief organizations can refer to in displacement situations.
On her part, Ms. Lea Matheson, displacement issues advisor at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said: “Ten years ago, they [displaced people] were not viewed as a source that can be utilized on daily basis, but now, my colleagues make use of their services in the field of operations to lead projects they work at developing.”
Effect on National Legislation
On her part, Kate Halff, head of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a project supported by the Norwegian Refugee Council, said that the Center uses these principles as references when monitoring displacement issues in about 50 countries around the world. She added: “The biggest achievement is that we now have a shared group of principles which form a foundation for all players dealing with displaced people and for the displaced people themselves who now own clear principles about their rights.”
Adopting the guiding principles in international circles has enhanced their position as a reference point for the world, but the more important development perhaps remains to be consolidating the principles into national laws and legislations.
On his part, Ramesh Rajasingham, head of the Displacement Center at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva said: “We have used these principles as main points to achieve tangible progress to influence national legislation.”
Kalin explained that one of the strong messages which should be sent from Oslo is the need for consolidating the principles in the local laws and policies. But he pointed out that this may be a tough proposal when one of the laws protecting the displaced contradicts other laws.”
The Oslo Meeting
He added: “We are trying to promote the idea that governments have to look deeply their current legislations.”
To facilitate this, a manual was prepared on the legal sides of the guiding principles, to be distributed at the Oslo meeting.
Among the important documents also is an annotated copy of the principles, prepared by Kalin’s office to clarify the links between the principles and the international law.
Ann Zaidan, head of the IDP project at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said: “At the end of the day, you have to link between non-binding laws and binding ones … you cannot depend only on the guiding principles, it is necessary to remember that there is a whole structure of human rights and humanitarian law behind these principles.”
Among the other subjects presented for discussion in Oslo was the increase in the number of displaced people as a result of natural disasters to a large extent, after climate changes started to tighten their fist on disasters.”
Kalin said that the important concentration should be directed at building consensus in opinions over the effects of displacement resulting from natural disasters.”