Closing Statement, ECOWAS

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

October 4, 2002

The Office of the Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons and the Brookings-SAIS Project, which supports this Office, are very pleased to have participated in this workshop. The positive response and interest of ECOWAS, IOM and the participating states from ECOWAS in the subject of internal displacement reflects not only the seriousness of the problem in this region but the concern, willingness and desire to try to address it. The discussions brought to light many good practices in the region at the national level as well as the need to develop legislation and policies on internal displacement and stronger institutional response. It also brought to light the important steps ECOWAS is taking and the steps it plans to take to promote greater harmonization of policy and programs for people forcibly displaced in their own countries.

We are grateful to IOM and ECOWAS for recognizing the importance of integrating the subject of internal displacement in this meeting and in the whole process that is being developed. As a result, information about IDPs will be part of the observatory’s data collection. Since legislation does not exist on this subject, information about policies and institutions will be focused upon. It is significant that the workshop underscored the need to use a comprehensive definition of internally displaced persons. That includes those displaced by conflict, natural disaster and development projects. We look forward to reviewing the information collected and to working with you toward the establishment of a permanent observatory in West Africa.

A regional approach and regional consultations are particularly effective in addressing situations of internal displacement, especially since these situations do not remain confined within borders but easily affect other countries. Moreover, we found in the discussions here the usefulness of comparative analysis at the regional level – where different governments present their own experiences and learn from each other. To that end, we strongly support the proposal that a focal point be created at ECOWAS on migration issues, including the internally displaced. ECOWAS’ ability to integrate the issue of internal displacement into its work could help its member states better fulfill their own commitments to displaced populations.

We ourselves plan to work with ECOWAS on this issue. And we will inform the Representative of the Secretary-General of our work here and of the interest of a number of governments in inviting him to visit the West African region.

Finally, on behalf of myself and my colleagues Erin Mooney and Marianne Makar, we again thank all the participants for being so responsive to our presentations on internal displacement and for making our stay here in Dakar an immensely interesting one. We have learned a lot and we look forward to meeting with you again on these issues as the process continues.