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Statement to the Panel discussion on the human rights of internally displaced persons in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

Speeches and statements

Statement to the Panel discussion on the human rights of internally displaced persons in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

26 June 2018
38th session of the Human Rights Council

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Many thanks for the opportunity to be part of this panel on the human rights of internally displaced persons.

Today, 40 million people are uprooted inside their countries by conflict, violence, and human rights violations. This represents a doubling of the number of internally displaced persons since the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were born two decades ago. Let us also not forget the millions of people living in internal displacement as a result of disasters. Some 18.8 million incidents of disaster-induced displacement were recorded in 2017 alone, many of which involved individuals who were displaced multiple times. It is more necessary than ever for us to refocus our collective efforts on reversing this trend.

Those of us gathered in this room today have devoted ourselves to doing so – to preventing and resolving internal displacement, each in our own way, within our respective responsibilities, roles, mandates, and expertise. Together we have made important progress, particularly with the launch of the Guiding Principles, yet much remains to be done.

The Guiding Principles are foundational for the protection of internally displaced persons. They constitute a compilation of relevant international humanitarian and international human rights law specifically tailored to the situation of those who are forcibly displaced as a result of conflict, violence, or natural disasters. Over time, they have become the authoritative point of reference for normative and institutional frameworks. Twenty-five States directly reference the Guiding Principles in their own national laws or policies. States in the African Union, taking inspiration from the Guiding Principles, further adopted the Kampala Convention – a watershed regional instrument on internal displacement that will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year.

The Guiding Principles inform the efforts of States and international organizations to prevent, respond to, and resolve internal displacement. They also, importantly, are a source of empowerment for the internally displaced themselves. They state clearly and comprehensively the needs and rights of the internally displaced.

Given my responsibilities and the institution that I represent, I would like to recall that protection is, in essence, human rights in action, and it must therefore be oriented towards people and communities. It also the ultimate goal that unites us. This means that internally displaced persons must be able to enjoy the widest possible array of human rights and fundamental freedoms, without discrimination. It also means that protection needs to drive humanitarian action, inspiring its operational design, coordination, and implementation and interactions with development, human rights, security, and political actors.

How can this be accomplished? 

First and foremost, we need to place people and communities affected by displacement at the centre of our protection work – through advocating for their rights, involving them in decisions that affect them, understanding the deeper reasons behind their plight, and seeking to redress their situation through hands-on operational engagement.

We also need to provide concrete, quality protection services to the internally displaced, such as prompt access to professional care for survivors of sexual violence; legal aid to ensure access to justice; and advocacy for and interventions on behalf of IDPs when they face an immediate risk. Assistance with registration and individual documentation, including to realize housing, land, and property rights, is particularly critical. We saw this last year with the rapid issuance of replacement documents to persons fleeing the Mosul emergency, and also with the registration of property abandoned by individuals fleeing violence in Honduras. And efforts to reunite abandoned and separated children with their families need to continue, as we are doing in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Nigeria, and elsewhere.

Protection considerations further need to be integrated into every service or form of assistance that we deliver [mainstreaming protection]. In whatever we do to assist IDPs, we must understand and appreciate the protection dimensions of our actions. For instance, failing to think through the layout of camps properly can put women and girls at risk of rape, abduction, and other serious violations of their rights. When it comes to inter-agency responses to internal displacement, protection informs our shelter, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene [WASH], health, and education programmes, as well as the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Protection also needs to be the objective of laws and policies related to internal displacement. The Guiding Principles rightly ascribe the primary responsibility for protection to States. Developing a national instrument on internal displacement, whether a law or a policy, is a tangible act of national responsibility. In this respect, and in keeping with the ultimate aim of protection, UNHCR encourages and seeks to facilitate efforts by States to consult the internally displaced and their host communities in the development of national laws and policies on internal displacement. This was the practice, for example, in Nigeria in 2016, and is also being followed in Niger.

While laws and policies on internal displacement are to be valued and promoted, one of our greater challenges today is the implementation of these laws and policies once adopted. Proper and specifically mandated institutional structures are needed, with the necessary political authority and adequate human and financial resources, to carry out activities to prevent, protect, and resolve internal displacement. Successful implementation also requires accountability by States to their citizens, including the displaced. Strong domestic institutions, such as the judicial systems in Colombia and Georgia, are essential to ensuring this accountability.

In looking towards the future and taking the opportunity of the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles, we need to remain steadfast in our pursuit of preventive action and solutions to forced displacement. The Guiding Principles provide us with the vision to achieve this, especially if translated into normative and institutional frameworks that translate the primary responsibility of States into action. Our goal, as captured in the GP20 Plan of Action, is to be as comprehensive and inclusive in this endeavour as possible, matching the investments in the development of laws and policies with investments to implement them – a genuine call to decisive action.