UNHCR welcomes Philippines bill to protect internally displaced

Briefing Notes, 8 February 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 February 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

This week, the Philippines' Congress passed a bill that seeks to protect the rights of more than a million internally displaced people. This is a very welcome development.

The bill still needs the President's endorsement, but when it becomes law the Philippines will become the first country in the Asia-Pacific to have comprehensive legislation that protects people against arbitrary displacement and guarantees the rights of the internally displaced in accordance with international standards particularly the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR sees this bill as a model for other countries.

This measure is a milestone for the protection of internally displaced people in the Philippines, where decades-long armed conflicts and many natural disasters have caused massive displacement especially in the Mindanao region.

It is estimated that between January and October of 2012 alone, some 300,000 people were displaced throughout Mindanao due the conflict between government and secessionist groups and natural disasters.

Natural disasters causing displacement occur frequently in the Philippines. Most recently, in early December, Typhoon Bopha, the strongest and deadliest storm to hit the Philippines in recent times, left more than 1,000 people dead, affected 6.2 million people and displaced close to 1 million people. Thousands of them remain homeless and are in need of humanitarian and other assistance in southern Mindanao.

The bill seeks to prevent displacement, and spells out rights during and after displacement. It also imposes heavy penalties against arbitrary internal displacement of any person, including non-combatants caught in the crossfire of internal armed conflicts.

It also spells out key rights of internally displaced people during and after displacement, emphasizing that displacement should not violate anyone's rights to life, liberty, dignity and security. The bill also importantly provides for monetary compensation for lost or damaged property or for the death of family members. The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, an independent agency of the state, has been designated as the focal point for the protection of displaced people.

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