Rights of the Internally Displaced (IDPs)

In every region of the world, internally displaced persons (IDPs) — those uprooted from their homes by conflict, human rights violations, natural disasters and other comparable causes who remain within the borders of their own countries — are subject to human rights violations, both during and after displacement. Frequently, they are discriminated against for being displaced and exposed to discrimination on racial, ethnic and gender grounds.

But where can IDPs turn for justice when their own governments fail to provide for their security and well-being?

Map of recent IDP movements in Sri Lanka

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Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 2006 — In every region of the world, internally displaced persons (IDPs) — those uprooted from their homes by conflict, human rights violations, natural disasters and other comparable causes who remain within the borders of their own countries — are subject to human rights violations, both during and after displacement. Frequently, they are discriminated against for being displaced and exposed to discrimination on racial, ethnic and gender grounds.

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English

Translations forthcoming.

But where can IDPs turn for justice when their own governments fail to provide for their security and well-being? This newly released Guide to International Human Rights Mechanisms for Internally Displaced Persons and their Advocates is designed to assist IDPs in using international and regional human rights mechanisms to bring attention to their plight and where possible to secure redress.

Written by David Fisher, a lawyer specializing in human rights and humanitarian law, and a former legal advisor to the Brookings-Bern Project and the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, this 240-page Guide provides a step-by-step reference to the mechanisms available to advance IDPs rights. It explains how to petition and bring information to:

  • The UN Human Rights Council, in particular 24 rapporteurs, representatives and working groups;
  • The Commission on the Status of Women;
  • Human rights treaty bodies (including the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Human Rights Committee);
  • Additional international bodies (eg. International Labour Organization, UNESCO, International Criminal Court and more);
  • Regional organizations – the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; and
  • The World Bank and regional development banks (which deal with displacement caused by development projects).

In the Foreword to the Guide, the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of IDPs, Dr. Walter Kalin, observes: “I have seen situations and lives changed for the better by judicious use of these processes. Thus I warmly welcome this Guide?Even for experts, the variations in procedures and processes utilised can prove daunting, making all the more valuable the Guide’s clear illustrations of the key stepping stones of each.”

The Guide offers a basic course to IDPs and their advocates in international human rights law and mechanisms; sets forth the rights that IDPs enjoy; advises how IDPs and their advocates can use international and regional mechanisms; and identifies the mechanisms best suited to address the different kinds of human rights violations in all phases of displacement.

It is a must for IDPs and their advocates. Easily accessible, electronic copies of the Guide can be downloaded online.

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UN Human Rights Council

Press Release
September 19, 2006

..The Council has before it a report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights of internally displaced persons (E/CN.4/2006/71), Walter Kalin, who says the last year has dramatically shown the scope and vulnerabilities of persons also displaced by natural disaster. At the same time, the humanitarian reform and wider United Nations reform processes have provided new opportunities to strengthen the response to internal displacement, whatever the cause. The present report sets out the comprehensive human rights-centred approach to all activities undertaken pursuant to the Representative’s mandate, and examines his dialogue with Governments over the last year, his efforts to mainstream the human rights of internally displaced persons into all parts of the United Nations system, his promotion of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, particularly at regional and national levels, and a variety of other activities promoting the human rights of internally displaced persons. He concludes with an assessment of the overall impact of his mandate thus far and provides a series of recommendations for future action.

An addendum to the above report ((E/CN.4/2006/71/Add.1) contains a framework for national responsibility, intended to help Governments address the problem of the internally-displaced in their countries in all aspects…

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston, on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (E/CN.4/2006/53, Add.1 and Add. 2) for its consideration. The report is submitted pursuant to Commission resolution 2005/34. The report and its addenda provide analysis of communications sent to Governments, which describe alleged cases of extrajudicial execution, reports on country missions to Nigeria and Sri Lanka during 2005…

PHILIP ALSTON, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said… It was a universally agreed upon principle of human rights law that States had an obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish violations of the right to life promptly thoroughly and effectively through independent and impartial bodies. Many States, however, failed to comply with that obligation in situations of armed conflict and occupation. The existence of an armed conflict did, of course, have implications. One was that the human rights regime was complemented by the regime of international humanitarian law. In the past couple of years, there had been a number of high-profile pronouncements by officials, including at the most senior level of government in highly developed countries, that they had given order for the police or the military to “shoot to kill”. His report on Nigeria identified problems in the administration of the death penalty and the system of policing. The situation in Sri Lanka had gravely deteriorated since his visit at the end of 2005. Seven hundred civilians were widely reported to have been killed in the past four months. The Council should take prompt action to resolve the problem in that country. The time had come for the establishment of a full-fledged international human rights monitoring mission.

WALTER KALIN, Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said it was his conviction that in order to ensure the full protection of the human rights of internally displaced persons, three things were essential: there should be a strong normative framework; there should be political will; and there should be the capacity to protect. His work addressed these three pillars, which he believed should underpin all activities that aimed to enhance the protection of the rights and well being of internally displaced persons. Commendable efforts had been undertaken at regional levels to enhance the normative framework for the protection of internally displaced persons. It was the Representative’s understanding that the mandate to pursue dialogue with Governments, as well as to mainstream the human rights of internally-displaced persons into all relevant parts of the United Nations, was a call to support the strengthening of political will for the protection of the internally displaced and their rights.

SARALA FERNANDO (Sri Lanka [government representative]), speaking as a concerned country, said the Government of Sri Lanka had a consistent policy of cooperation and open and constructive engagement with the special procedures mechanism by extending regular invitations to such mechanisms to undertake missions in the country, even during the years of conflict. The initiative of the Head of State to invite an international independent body of eminent persons to act as observers on investigations into recent allegations was in fact an additional voluntary mechanism to existing cooperation with special procedure mechanisms. The Government did so out of its commitment to the protection of human rights while combating terrorism and the Government’s desire to place itself beyond reproach regarding such concerns. It should also be recalled that as far back as 2003, at the Tokyo donor conference, a comprehensive programme for the promotion and protection of human rights was incorporated into the peace process. However, the LTTE had declined to participate in the Tokyo conference and as a result it had not been possible to implement the joint programme, which would have required the LTTE to cease all recruitment of child soldiers.

The visit by Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, to Sri Lanka in 2005 had taken place in the background of increasing violence by the LTTE. The first sign that the LTTE was preparing to resume hostilities came with the shocking assassination of the country’s Foreign Minister, a moderate Tamil intellectual. With regard to the comment made by the Special Rapproteur on legitimacy, Sri Lanka, was a democracy since independence, and the legitimacy of the Government was derived from the people who caste their votes freely at regular elections.

MASOOD KHAN (Pakistan [government representative]) said the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions was thanked for his report. The Ambassador of Nigeria had given a comprehensive response to this. The people and Government of Sri Lanka had faced daunting challenges in the recent past, including the tsunami and the tasks of recovery and reconstruction, which latter were still unfinished. The fury of civil unrest had not spared them, and it was in this context that the Government of Sri Lanka had invited four Rapporteurs and cooperated with them. It had kept the torch of democracy burning, and required the support of the international community. The pressure on the Sri Lankan Government should not legitimise impunity for terrorism. The decision to appoint an international body to investigate allegations of human rights violations was commended. The Government’s desire to take human rights into account should be recognised, as Sri Lanka needed support and understanding.

ZHOU JIAN (China [government representative]) said that the fact that the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, had visited Sri Lanka at the request of the Government, clearly expressed the goodwill of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was committed to the full realization of human rights, and was deeply involved at the national level to carry out its international commitments. The international community together with the Council should support and cooperate with the Government, and foster a constructive dialogue.

MUSTAFISUR RAHMAN (Bangladesh [government representative]) said on Sri Lanka, the statement had been followed carefully, and the views of the Ambassador of the country and the intention to remain engaged with human rights mechanisms on the ground was applauded. The conflict in Sri Lanka was complex and complicated. Society as a whole was destabilised, and it was a critical undertaking for any Government. The international community should support the Government and its people at this trying time, and work with all parties to the conflict to achieve the peace that had eluded Sri Lanka for so long.

TERRY CORMIER (Canada [government representative]) said the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, had made significant efforts to strengthen the system, including focusing on the need for improved follow-up. The Council should take up situations where countries did not respond to mandate-holders, and Mr. Alston should make his suggestions in putting this into effect. The situation in Sri Lanka was grave, and Mr. Alston’s views on this should be conveyed further. Any suggestions and recommendations on improving access of humanitarian organizations in all regions of the Sudan would be appreciated.

JEAN DANIEL VIGNY (Switzerland [government representative]) said the report on Sri Lanka showed that a cease-fire agreement was not a guarantee of stability. The report suggested a strengthening of the monitoring to ensure better observation of human rights. If the cease-fire was not respected, would Mr. Alston suggest a new mechanism for the observation of human rights, the speaker asked, and how would this be set up.

ROBYN MUDIE (Australia [government representative]) thanked Mr. Alston for his report on Sri Lanka with reference to arbitrary executions and current violations of human rights in the country. Australia supported the creation of an international human rights monitoring mechanism in Sri Lanka, and asked the Special Rapporteur on the best way for the international community to support current efforts at the national level to reach a meaningful dialogue.

SARALA FERNANDO (Sri Lanka [government representative]) said with regards to the presentation of the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kalin, at the time of the 2005 Commission, the protection of internally displaced persons in the context of natural disasters had been discussed with him. The issue of the tsunami had been much debated within the United Nations. The local response was the most critical in the first 24 hours of any disaster, and Mr. Kalin’s views in this regard should be elaborated. Another issue Sri Lanka was grappling with was the issue of registration of humanitarian workers in certain areas, and Mr. Kalin should suggest acceptable ways for this to be done. International interventions were becoming more costly, due to security costs, and Mr. Kalin should give his views on this issue. On Sri Lanka’s consistent policy of unhindered humanitarian access, this had continued, even in the areas where conflict reigned, and Sri Lanka was a unique example of a Member State which had consistently provided funds for projects in areas which were under control of insurgent groups. International humanitarian assistance went directly to the budgets of organizations working with internally displaced persons.

RUHSHAN FERNANDO, of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development and FORUM-ASIA, shared the concerned expressed by Mr. Alston and concurred with his recommendation regarding the need for an international human rights monitoring mission to Sri Lanka to address the rising number of extrajudicial killings and the grave human rights and humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka.