Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement: Annual Report 2008

June 5, 2009

2008 marked the 10th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which was an occasion both to commemorate efforts over the past decade to uphold the human rights of IDPs and to remind ourselves that much remains to be done. There are still an estimated 26 million people who have been forced from their communities by conflict and many more who have been displaced by natural disasters and large-scale development projects. Unfortunately, the increasing number of IDPs in countries as diverse as Somalia, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo makes it clear that there is still an urgent need to promote the human rights of IDPs.

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This was another year of intense activity for the Brookings-Bern Project with activities in many different areas, some highlighted in the pages that follow. Certainly, one of the high points this year was publication of Protecting Internally Displaced Persons: A Manual for Law and Policymakers, which provides concrete guidance for translating the Guiding Principles into national laws and policies. While national laws are not, in themselves, sufficient to ensure that the rights of IDPs are upheld, they provide an important starting point and can be used as a tool for IDPs and their advocates to hold governments accountable.

Another highlight has been our initiative to introduce a human rights perspective into the work of natural disaster responders. During the course of the year we carried out training activities with government officials and UN staff in Southern Africa and Central America, introducing the Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and Natural Disasters and exploring ways in which these guidelines could be translated into practice when natural disasters hit. The Representative carried out working visits to the US, Honduras, Madagascar and Mozambique with a particular focus on natural disasters. On the conceptual level, we explored the potential impact of climate change on displacement and identified gaps in the international legal system in responding to the displacement.

We are particularly pleased with our work to promote awareness of the relationship between internal displacement and peace and to encourage governments to adopt laws and policies which uphold the human rights of IDPs. It has been encouraging to see the extent to which UN agencies and non-governmental organizations alike are mainstreaming the issue of IDPs into their ongoing work. We have also been pleased to see that the various guidelines and frameworks which we have developed are being used in the field to enhance the operational response to IDPs. Our work to reach out to diverse groups, such as National Human Rights Institutions in Africa and civil society actors in all regions continues to demonstrate the importance of disseminating materials and ideas to those in a position to use them on the ground.

As this report makes clear, the research expertise brought by The Brookings Institution coupled with the Representative’s on-the-ground activities have enabled the project to have an impact far beyond its small staff capacity. The Representative’s 2008 missions to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Georgia, and working visits to Kenya, Bosnia, Colombia, and Timor-Leste indicated that much more needs to be done before the human rights of IDPs are fully respected. The research conducted this past year by The Brookings Institution on diverse issues, such as climate change and displacement, elections and displacement in Iraq, and mechanisms for consulting with IDPs, has enhanced our understanding of displacement.

Although we are proud of our work in 2008, we are acutely aware that much more is needed to respond to the world’s internally displaced persons and have continued to set an ambitious agenda for our work.

Walter Kälin
Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons

Elizabeth Ferris
Senior Fellow and Co-director
Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement