Internal Displacement in Peace Processes

Walter Kälin
Walter Kälin Former Brookings Expert

March 25, 2010

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start with two short quotes:

“The exclusion of IDPs from peace processes is both unjust and unwise. … The exclusion of IDPs from the peacemaking and peacebuilding has a deeper cost of undercutting the efficiency and effectiveness of the processes.” [Donald Steinberg, Vice-President ICG][1]

 “The [Juba peace] talks would be relevant to us if occasionally one or two representatives of the Acholi people now in Juba would come here and discuss the results with us and get our thoughts, but no-one comes. Everything is hearsay.” [a man from Mucwini camp in Northern Uganda] [2]

My discussions with internally displaced persons (IDPs) in many countries where peace processes are taking place reveal a common theme: They feel alienated and excluded from negotiations whose outcome will determine their very future: whether they will be able to return to their villages or whether they will have to remain in congested camps or miserable and overcrowded settlements.

In fact, getting to peace in a country or region affected by armed conflict and finding durable solutions for displaced populations are closely intertwined.

Integrating Internal Displacement in Peace Processes and Agreements”,[3] the guide for mediators we launch today here in Bern aims at addressing this complex relationship. The Guide was developed by the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement which I co-direct with guidance from a steering committee chaired by me and composed of senior mediators and leading experts on internal displacement, in close cooperation with the United Nations Mediation Support Unit within the Department of Political Affairs, and in consultation with experts on mediation, peacemaking, and internal displacement. The lead author in drafting this guide was Gerard Mc Hugh. I am grateful to the Political Division IV for their continuous support throughout the development of this guide. I am also glad that we can jointly launch it today together with Swisspeace.


1. Peace Agreements Matter for Internally Displaced Persons

Let me start with highlighting the reasons why we decided to develop this guide. My own experience in carrying out my mandate as Representative of the Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons made it clear to me early on in my mandate that peace processes and peace agreements are of vital importance in finding durable solutions for the more than 25 million persons displaced by conflict all over the world. In 2005, I visited Bosnia-Herzegovina where Annex VII to the 1996 Dayton Peace Agreement had set out comprehensive provisions on the right to return of refugees and IDPs. Yet, I found that many continued to live in the same over-crowded and dilapidated collective shelters they had been brought to during the war. For many of them who could not go back for a variety of reasons, the right to return had in reality become a burden in the sense that they were expected to return and to stay in these collective shelters until this would become possible. Annex VII thus had become an obstacle to local integration as it did not provide for a right of the displaced to choose whether to return to their former homes, locally integrate where they were displaced to or settle in another part of the country.

In Côte d’Ivoire, I saw how the conclusion of the Ouagadougou Accord of April 2007 immediately triggered the return of many IDPs despite the fact that the agreement only contains a passing reference to those displaced by the conflict. While many IDPs returned, they did so in a situation where lack of support for reintegration and for livelihoods remained a considerable problem.

In Nepal, I felt that the peace negotiations between the Maoists and the Seven-Party Coalition would be flawed if they would not take into account the fate of those displaced by the armed conflict. I wrote to the two negotiating parties making specific proposals to address displacement and many of these suggestions found their way into the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2006. This certainly contributed to finding durable solutions for many IDPs.

2. Beyond Anecdotal Experiences: The Peace-Displacement Nexus

Getting to peace in a country or region affected by armed conflict and finding durable solutions for displaced populations are closely intertwined. These inter-linkages are the deeper reason why peace processes and agreements matter to IDPs and, vice versa, why IDPs matter to peace processes.

The relation between conflict and displacement is a direct and a linear one; the greater the number of people affected by a conflict and the longer the conflict lasts, the more people are likely to be displaced. Yet, the relation between the end of conflict, the end of displacement and sustainable peace is more complicated.

Peace is a precondition for IDPs to rebuild their lives. However, the end of hostilities per se does not imply that IDPs will automatically find a durable solution and resume their normal lives. By way of example, even if a peace process is on its way, if militias in areas of origin are not disarmed, or if, as I have seen in Southern Sudan in 2005, militias responsible for the displacement of a particular community are not relocated after having been integrated into the regular armed forces, IDPs will not return to their place of origin. This is because they will continue to fear those who had attacked them regardless of the conclusion of a peace agreement. If IDPs are unable to recover their land or property as in parts of Colombia, or if in places like Northern Uganda property-related disputes are not adequately addressed, large-scale return is unlikely or could inadvertently provoke new tensions. If reconstruction and economic rehabilitation remain insufficient to enable the displaced to resume livelihoods, settlement or return will not be sustainable. And if impunity for those responsible for displacement prevails, and rule of law, including accountability for past crimes is not implemented, the prospect for reconciliation between the displaced and those responsible for their displacement diminishes. This is the situation, for example, in Northwestern CAR, where IDPs have demanded this accountability.

Thus, provisions on issues such as safety and security, recovery, reconciliation or property issues in peace agreements are essential for the displaced. Past experiences in situations as diverse as the Balkans, Burundi and Nepal, have shown that this process can best be initiated and receive the necessary political backing if a peace agreement takes displacement-specific issue into account in both its substantive provisions and in the provisions on implementation.

On the other hand, resolving displacement situations is essential to building peace. Protracted displacement in post-conflict settings hampers the reconciliation process in post-war societies.  In fact, latent tensions and grievances can constrain peacebuilding or buildup to outright rejection of a peace agreement or a peace process. Resolving internal displacement and achieving durable solutions thus is inextricably linked with achieving lasting peace.

3. The need to give IDPs a voice

In 2007, the Brookings Bern Project on Internal Displacement looked at how internal displacement and IDPs themselves were involved in peace negotiations and peace processes.[4] The study showed that despite the clear linkage between displacement and peace, in most cases, IDPs are excluded from peace negotiations and peace processes.

Direct participation of IDPs in track-one negotiations is very rare, as a result of three factors. Firstly, most track-one processes are designed to be exclusive, in bringing together the leaders of the parties who are able to negotiate an end to the conflict. Secondly IDPs often belong to marginalized groups and lack the education and skills needed to participate effectively.  Thirdly IDP groups are usually not a monolithic block, they may be geographically scattered and have divergent views.  At times, they even act as spoilers in the negotiation process.

At the same time and despite their relevance in the peace process, internal displacement issues are, often neglected or overlooked in peace agreements. While there are good examples to the contrary, all too often the interests of IDPs fall through the cracks in the trade-offs of peace negotiations. Other groups, in particular demobilized rebels, are often of greater political interest than IDPs. At first sight, this is understandable. However, the consequences can sometimes be paradoxical. In the case of the Central African Republic, e.g., the UN Peacebuilding Commission first discussed the DDR package for former rebels without considering that return of demobilized rebels to their home communities is impossible as long as these communities are displaced. Or in Colombia, the per capita budget spent per demobilized rebel greatly exceeded assistance to IDPs, creating much resentment among IDPs.

Not to listen to the voice of IDPs and not to respond to their needs is unfair and unwise. Unfair, because IDPs did not choose their displacement but have become victims of decisions by others. Unwise because experience shows that IDPs at the country level very often are a group that is sufficiently large to have a positive or – if neglected – negative impact on peace processes: In Sudan almost 13% and in Somalia more than 13% of the overall population is displaced. In Iraq, the number of IDPs amounts to an estimated 9.6 percent of the population. In Azerbaijan and Georgia, after many years, these percentages still range between 6 and 7 %. In Uganda, IDPs amounted to 2.7% of the overall population but in the Acholi district almost everyone was displaced. In CAR only 2.5% of the overall population is displaced, but this figure soars to 25% in the affected North-West of the country.

The Guide for Mediators

Based on these elements we felt that it is important to develop complementary strategies for representing the interests of IDPs in peace negotiations and peace processes, because their direct participation is often not possible. In my missions to conflict-affected regions and in dialogue with mediators and other persons involved in peace processes, I was often told that they realized that internal displacement was important to the dynamics of the peace process and yet, they were not very clear on how to handle the issue. They didn’t know which were the key issues and were afraid that taking internal displacement into account would overload the peace negotiations. They were also skeptical about consulting with IDPs. How to be sure that the voices gathered are representative? How can scattered IDPs be consulted in a meaningful way and how can this be done without overstretching the capacities of the mediation team? How should mediators deal with IDP groups that behave like spoilers in the process?

These were the questions which lay the foundation of our project to develop a short and concise guide for mediators on internal displacement. The guide provides mediation teams with an easy to use structure on which they can develop their own strategies on incorporating internal displacement in their specific situation. This structure follows four steps. 

  • Step 1 explains why internal displacement matters in peace processes. It gives guidance on how to analyze the characteristics and dynamics of an internal displacement situation, which are key for the mediator to understand in order to develop appropriate strategies.
  • Step 2 presents a conceptual framework that provides the necessary space for integrating internal displacement into mediation efforts and peace negotiations. This framework consists of two parts: a mission statement and the legal and policy foundations such as the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. This step also provides guidance on how to apply the mission statement and its legal and policy foundation.
  • Step 3 looks at the process by which IDPs can be engaged in the various stages of the peace process. It develops different models of consultations and gives guidance on key aspects to be taken into account when consulting with IDP groups.
  • Finally, step 4 offers guidance on the content of displacement-specific provisions. It identifies the key elements that should be considered in peace agreements and indicates good examples.

These steps are not strictly sequential, they do overlap and the sequence and timing has to be adapted to each specific situation.

Conclusion: Rights of IDPs, obligations of states and moral duties of mediators

I hope that this guide proves to be useful to mediators in their endeavors to incorporate internal displacement into peace processes and peace agreements. I am convinced that in many situations the peace agreement can lay the foundation for finding durable solutions for IDPs.  I know that the resolution of displacement situations is an essential contribution to peace-building, reconciliation and stabilization of a post-conflict society.

To build sustainable peace in a way that allows the displaced to rebuild their lives in a sustainable way is not only a matter of politics. It is also a moral duty as well as a question of respecting and fulfilling the human rights of those who suffered displacement as a result of the conflict, the IDPs. They do have rights and they do have the right to enjoy their rights. There must not be a trade-off between the rights of IDPs and the rights of others in the peace process. Governments have an obligation to respect the rights of all their citizens including the displaced. Mediators have the duty, not a legal, but a moral, duty to bring the issue of the rights of the displaced to the negotiating parties and to help them find ways for the governments to assume their obligations in a post-conflict society vis-à-vis all of their people. This new publication supports them in this task.

[1] A Seat at the Table: The Role of Displaced Persons in Peace Talks and Peacebuilding, Donald Steinberg, Presentation by Donald Steinberg, Vice President, International Crisis Group at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington DC, 14 December, 2007

[2] The building blocks of sustainable peace, The views of internally displaced people in Northern Uganda, Oxfam Briefing Papers 106, September 2007, pp. 13 and 14.

[3] Integrating Internal Displacement in Peace Processes and Agreements, The Peacemaker’s Toolkit Series, United States Institute of Peace and Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, Washington D.C., 2010.

[4] Addressing Internal Displacement in Peace Processes, Peace Agreements and Peace-Building, The Brookings Bern project on Internal Displacement, Washington D.C., 2007