Briefing on Internally Displaced Persons in Armenia and Azerbaijan

Roberta Cohen
Roberta Cohen Former Brookings Expert, Co-Chair Emeritus - Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

May 16, 2006

Distinguished Chair, Human Rights Caucus members, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Congressional Human Rights Caucus is to be commended for drawing attention to a neglected and overlooked group of people – the internally displaced persons (IDPs) of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Forced from their homes by conflict more than ten years ago, many continue to live in conditions of extreme poverty and vulnerability. A 2004 World Bank study found that IDPs in the South Caucasus suffer disproportionately from the rest of the population. They “are generally poorer” with more limited material assets, higher unemployment rates and far more reliant on public assistance, making for serious concerns about respect for their human rights. Their shelter is substandard, and many face difficulties accessing material needs, education for their children as well as basic social and political rights. While international attention generally focuses on current, “hot” emergencies, it is important not to forget the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children left behind in quiet emergencies, the result of protracted and unresolved conflicts.

Because internally displaced persons reside within their own countries, primary responsibility for meeting their protection assistance, reintegration and development needs rests with their national authorities. But national responsibility is generally not defined. To help governments design an effective national response, and to enable other actors to evaluate their performance, the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement has identified twelve benchmarks of national responsibility. The benchmarks were published this year by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and should prove instructive to the Human Rights Caucus in evaluating how the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan are exercising their national responsibility. The Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Dr. Walter Kalin, who serves as co-director of the Brookings-Bern Project, uses this national responsibility framework as a guide in his dialogues with governments about internal displacement.