From National Responsibility to Response – Part I: General Conclusions on IDP Protection

Elizabeth Ferris,
Elizabeth Ferris
Elizabeth Ferris Former Brookings Expert, Research Professor, Institute for the Study of International Migration - Georgetown University
Erin Mooney, and
Erin Mooney Deputy Director
Chareen Stark
Chareen Stark Senior Research Assistant, Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement

February 21, 2012

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two piece series on internal displacement that originally appeared online in TerraNullius. The second part is available here.

The Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement recently released a study entitled “From Responsibility to Response: Assessing National Response to Internal Displacement.” The study examined 15 out of the 20 countries with the highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations—Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia, Iraq, Kenya, Myanmar, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda and Yemen.

According to estimates, these 15 countries represent over 70 percent of the world’s 27.5 million conflict-induced IDPs. Wherever possible, we also tried to include government efforts to address internal displacement by natural disasters. But in this and the subsequent blog post, we will focus on our main general conclusions as well as particular issues around housing, land and property (HLP) rights that emerged from our analysis (see Part II of this posting).

The study looks at how governments have fared in terms of implementing 12 practical steps (“benchmarks”) to prevent and address internal displacement, as outlined in the 2005 Brookings publication entitled “Addressing Internal Displacement: A Framework for National Responsibility.” The 12 benchmarks are as follows:

1. Prevent displacement and minimize its adverse effects.
2. Raise national awareness of the problem.
3. Collect data on the number and conditions of IDPs.
4. Support training on the rights of IDPs.
5. Create a legal framework for upholding the rights of IDPs.
6. Develop a national policy on internal displacement.
7. Designate an institutional focal point on IDPs.
8. Support national human rights institutions to integrate internal displacement into their work.
9. Ensure the participation of IDPs in decisionmaking.
10. Support durable solutions.
11. Allocate adequate resources to the problem.
12. Cooperate with the international community when national capacity is insufficient.

Stepping back from HLP issues (to be addressed in a subsequent set of comments in Part II of this guest posting), we drew several key observations on our overall findings.

The study found that political will was the main determining factor of response to internal displacement. Governments cannot always control the factors that cause displacement, or may themselves be responsible for displacement, but they can take measures to improve the lives and uphold the rights and freedoms of IDPs. Internal displacement due to con­flict derives from political issues, and all aspects of a government’s response to it therefore are affected by political considerations, including, for example, acknowledgment of displacement, registration and collection of data on IDPs, ensuring the participation of IDPs in decision-making, assistance and protection offered to different (temporal) caseloads of IDPs, support for durable solutions, which durable solutions are supported, and the facilitation of efforts by international organizations to provide protec­tion and assistance to IDPs.

While none of the governments surveyed was fully protecting and assisting IDPs, four stand out in particular—Colombia, Georgia, Kenya and Uganda—for implementing their responsibility toward IDPs while three others—Central African Republic, Myanmar and Yemen—had particular difficulties in fulfilling their responsibilities toward IDPs. In Myanmar, the obstacles were primarily political while in Yemen and the Central African Republic, as in many of the countries surveyed, the limitations appear to arise primarily from inadequate government capacity.

The other eight countries were somewhere in between. For example, some, such as Nepal, have demonstrated a significant commitment at one particular point in time but have failed to follow through. Others, such as Sri Lanka, have at times demonstrated blatant disregard for their responsibility and have moved swiftly to try to bring an end to displacement. Sudan, Pakistan, and to a certain extent, Turkey, have very problematic records with respect to preventing displacement in one part of the country yet have supported efforts to bring an end to displacement in others. In some cases, such as Afghanistan and Yemen, the continuing conflict and the role of nonstate actors (and in Afghanistan, the presence of foreign militaries as well) have made it difficult for the government to respond effectively to internal displacement.

Prevention of internal displacement is paramount, but is probably the most difficult measure to take and the least likely to be taken in the countries as­sessed, which all had large IDP populations. Given the scale of displacement in the fifteen countries surveyed, it was to be expected that these governments would not have been suc­cessful in preventing displacement. Nearly half of the fifteen countries assessed had adopted some preventive measures on paper, but all fifteen have fallen short of actually prevent­ing displacement in practice.

Moreover, many national authorities themselves have been or are perpetrators of violence or human rights abuses that have led to displacement, and many states foster a culture of impunity for alleged perpetrators of serious human rights violations. Further, the presence of foreign military forces and/or non-state armed actors limits the abil­ity of many states to exercise full sovereignty over their territory and therefore to prevent the conditions that drive people into displacement. Some countries have taken steps to prevent dis­placement due to natural disasters or develop­ment but not due to conflict, indicating that the former is perhaps less politically taboo and/or practically less difficult to implement than the latter.

Sustained political attention by the highest authorities is a necessary, though not suffi­cient, condition for taking responsibility for IDPs. Nearly all of the governments surveyed, at least at some point, have exercised their responsibility to IDPs by acknowledging the existence of internal displacement and their responsibility to address it as a national prior­ity, for example, by drawing attention to IDPs’ plight. However, government efforts to raise awareness of internal displacement through public statements was not always a useful indicator of a government’s commitment to upholding the fundamental human rights and freedoms of IDPs.

Among the five countries with laws on or related to internal displacement, there were notable limitations to the scope of the laws and gaps in implementing them. Legislation was quite comprehensive in scope in at least two cases and was narrow in others, address­ing specific rights of IDPs or a phase of dis­placement. Other countries lacked a national legislative framework on IDPs but had generic legislation relevant to IDPs. Still others had laws that violated or could violate the rights of IDPs. Laws on internal displacement must be viewed in the context of other legislation and administrative acts applicable to the general population (e.g., those related to documenta­tion, residency, housing, land and property, and personal status), which this study reviews to the extent possible, particularly in the case studies on Georgia, Kenya, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. In Africa, the region with the most IDPs, states have recognized in legally binding instruments the importance of addressing internal displace­ment by incorporating the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement into domestic legisla­tion and policy.

Many of the governments surveyed have adopted policies or action plans to respond to the needs of IDPs, but adequate implementa­tion and dissemination were largely lacking. Nine of the countries surveyed had developed a specific policy, strategy or plan on internal displacement, implemented to varying degrees; those in six of these countries were still active at the time of writing. In addition, at least two countries had national policies in draft form, and one country that does not recognize conflict-induced displacement had a plan for mitigating displacement by cyclones and a plan on disaster risk reduction, although it did not discuss displacement. While in some cases positive steps had been taken, by and large im­plementation of policies on internal displace­ment remains a challenge and has, in some cases, stalled. Available information indicates that efforts to raise awareness of IDP issues and policies have largely been inadequate.

It is difficult to assess governments’ com­mitment of financial resources to address internal displacement, but some trends were identified. Addressing internal displacement, especially over time, is a costly venture. While it was difficult to obtain a full picture of a coun­try’s expenditure on IDPs, several countries allocated funds to assist IDPs, including a few that had no national laws or policies on IDPs. In at least two countries, funds for assisting IDPs seemed to diminish in recent years. In many countries, difficulties arise at the district or municipal levels, where local authorities bear significant responsibility for addressing internal displacement but face many obstacles, including insufficient funds, to doing so. Allegations of corruption and misallocation of funds intended to benefit IDPs at certain points has been observed in some of the countries as­sessed. Some countries seem to rely on inter­national assistance to IDPs rather than national funds.

National human rights institutions (NHRIs) contribute invaluably to improving national responses to internal displacement in a number of countries. In recent years, an increasing number of NHRIs around the world have begun to integrate attention to internal displacement into their work. NHRIs have played an impor­tant role in raising awareness of internal dis­placement, monitoring displacement situations and returns, investigating individual complaints, advocating for and advising the government on the drafting of national policies to address inter­nal displacement, and monitoring and reporting on the implementation of national policies and legislation. In particular, the NHRIs of six of the countries surveyed stand out for their efforts to promote the rights of IDPs in their countries. Interestingly, almost all of their work with IDPs is funded by international sources, raising the question of whether national governments themselves should not be doing more to increase their funding of NHRIs in order to support their engagement with IDP issues.

International actors are valuable resources for efforts aiming to improve government response to IDPs. In many cases, the past Representatives of the UN Secretary-General (RSGs) mandated to study the issue of internal displacement (Francis Deng and his successor Walter Kälin) and the current UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (Chaloka Beyani) had exercised significant influence on governments in encouraging and supporting action on behalf of IDPs. Along with these actors, UNHCR and the Brookings Project on Internal Displacement have provided technical assis­tance to support governments’ efforts to de­velop national legal frameworks to ensure IDPs’ access to their rights.

Durable solutions: Return was the durable solution most often supported by the govern­ments assessed. The Framework for National Responsibility identifies three durable solu­tions—return, local integration and settlement elsewhere in the country. However, the fifteen countries surveyed herein reflect a global ten­dency to emphasize return, often excluding the other durable solutions. Yet for solutions to be voluntary, IDPs must be able to choose among them, and local integration or settlement else­where in the country may in fact be some IDPs’ preferred solution. Especially in situations of protracted displacement, those may be the only feasible solutions, at least in the near future.

The most difficult benchmarks to analyze were those whose underlying concepts are very broad and those for which data was seemingly not publicly available. Chief among these were the benchmarks on preventing internal displacement (Benchmark 1), raising national awareness (Benchmark 2), promoting the participation of IDPs in decisionmaking (Benchmark 9), and allocating adequate resources (Benchmark 11). Analysis on all other benchmarks also faced data constraints as in many cases data were outdated or incomplete or simply were not available. Nonetheless, we found that the twelve benchmarks all directed attention to important issues in governments’ responses to internal displacement.

We also found that while protection is central to the Framework, the issue is of such importance that there should be a benchmark explicitly focused on it—and specifically on protection as physical security, provided to IDPs during all phases of displacement. This benchmark would also underscore the responsibility of governments to protect the security of humanitarian workers engaged with IDPs.

Overall, the study found that the Framework for National Responsibility is a valuable tool for analyzing government efforts to prevent dis­placement, to respond to IDPs’ needs for protection and assistance and to support durable solutions. But this study also reveals certain limitations to using the Framework as an assessment tool, particularly in terms of accounting for the responsibility of nonstate actors; accounting for national responsibility for protection, particularly during displacement; and accounting for causes of displacement other than conflict, violence and human rights violations.