Forced Migration Review

Interview of Walter K�lin, Representative of the UN Secretary- General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons

Professor Kälin, in September 2004 you were appointed the 'UN Secretary-General's Representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons'. Your predecessor, Dr Francis Deng, did not have the words 'human rights' in his title. Does this indicate a change in the mandate?

When Dr Deng's mandate was created by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1992, there was acknowledgement that internal displacement was a serious human rights problem but in the absence of a treaty on the rights of internally displaced persons, or any provision in a human rights convention explicitly guaranteeing the rights of IDPs, it was almost impossible to assert that IDPs as such had human rights. Of course, as human beings, IDPs when they become uprooted do not lose their human rights but it was unclear what these rights specifically meant in the context of displacement. Since 1998, the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement have identified the human rights that are of special relevance for IDPs and have spelled out, in more detail, what is implicit in these guarantees. The change in title of my mandate suggests that the concept of the human rights of IDPs is, at least in principle, accepted today by the international community and indicates a certain redirection of the mandate as it puts more emphasis on the protection of the rights of IDPs.

How do you see your work inter-facing with that of other key IDP actors such as the OCHA Inter-Agency Internal Displacement Division (IDD) and the Global IDP Project?

We have complementary mandates and cooperate with each other on the basis of a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding, signed in November 2004, which spells out our respective roles. IDD's main focus is to support UN country teams in developing and implementing a collaborative response to situations of internal displacement; the Global IDP Project continues to run its database and conduct training on the Guiding Principles; while I focus on advocacy for the rights of IDPs. Our cooperation translates into specific actions. For example, I am planning to conduct some country missions jointly with IDD and, as part of my mandate to mainstream the human rights of IDPs into all relevant parts of the UN system, I have asked the Global IDP Project to submit relevant information on the human rights situation of IDPs to treaty bodies on a regular basis with a hope that those bodies will address the issue of internal displacement more regularly in the future.