A Developing Trend: Laws and Policies on Internal Displacement

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are those who have been forced from their home but, unlike refugees, remain within the borders of their own countries. Around the world, there are currently some 23.7 million women, men, and children uprooted by conflict, communal violence, and civil strife.1 Many millions more have been displaced as a result of natural disasters and development projects. Cut off from their homes, communities, and livelihoods, IDPs are often in destitute conditions and vulnerable to human rights abuse.

For many years, the plight of IDPs remained largely ignored both by national authorities and international organizations. However, the 1992 appointment of a Representative of the Secretary- General on Internally Displaced Persons, Francis Deng, marked the commencement of sustained attention to developing solutions to the challenge of internal displacement. Among the many activities pursued by Deng and his successor, Walter Kälin,2 has been the development of international standards for IDPs — the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (Guiding Principles)3 — and their incorporation into domestic legal and policy frameworks.

First introduced into the United Nations in 1998, the Guiding Principles have become the basis for laws and policies in at least 16 countries. Indeed, the development of laws and policies on internal displacement is becoming a trend in all regions of the world. From Colombia to Sri Lanka, Uganda to Turkey, national authorities are developing legislation aimed at translating sometimes abstract provisions of the Guiding Principles into directives at the national level. This is a welcome development, reflecting the primary responsibility of national authorities for the protection of IDPs.

This article takes stock of the laws and policies that have been developed, examines the different models that have been created, draws attention to challenging issues that need to be addressed, and identifies tools to assist legislators and policymakers in enhancing protection for IDPs.

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2005, March 2006, p. 6.

The Commission on Human Rights, Resolution 2004/55, provided the framework for a new mandate, that of Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (emphasis added). Giving a specific human rights focus to the mandate, it invited the Representative to engage in coordinated international advocacy and action for improving protection and respect for the human rights of persons who have become internally displaced. In September 2004, Walter Kälin, a Swiss jurist, was appointed Representative.

Francis M. Deng, Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1998/53, (Feb. 11, 1998).