Protection of Internally Displaced Persons in Situations of Natural Disaster: A Working Visit to Asia

April 1, 2005


From 27 February to 5 March 2005 the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Dr. Walter Kälin, traveled to Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Bangkok, Thailand, to attend a number of working meetings and seminars on the issue of the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs) with a particular focus on the response to the tsunamis of 26 December 2004. The mission did not have a fact-finding component and as such was not characterized as an official visit. However, the Permanent Missions of Sri Lanka and Thailand had been contacted and informed prior to the mission, and both agreed that the Representative attend the meetings in both countries.

The main objective of the mission was for the Representative to discuss with various actors from this region affected by the tsunamis, the human rights situation of internally displaced persons, and to identify and recommend next steps in the international, regional and national response to the disaster. The visit was particularly timely as the response was shifting from the immediate humanitarian emergency phase to the recovery and reconstruction phase.

From 28 February to 2 March the Representative was in Sri Lanka. the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka had invited him to attend an event, jointly organized with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to discuss the human rights situaion of IDPs created by the tsunamis. He also attended a number of additional meetings with international organizations as well as local humanitarian and human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

From 2 to 3 March he was in Bangkok, Thailand, where he attended a number of meetings and seminars. On 3 March he attended meetings with various civil society groups organized by Forum Asia, and on 4 March he gave a keynote speech at the 8th Practitioners’ Forum on Human Rights in Development organized by the regional Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In this context he also met the Special Coordinator of the Secretary-General, Ms. Margareta Wahlström, and discussed with her a number of recommendations for follow-up.

Based on these working visits, this document gives an overview of the types of protection and human rights issues that may arise in situations of displacement due to natural disasters and also provides some concrete illustration of concerns and issues expressed and identified during the various meetings attended by the Representative.

Using the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement as benchmarks for protection, Section I introduces the applicatioin of the Guiding Principles to natural disasters. Section II addresses the question of prevention of displacement in the context of disaster. Section III highlights the various protection needs that can arise after a disaster. Section IV turns to the different actors who have a role in ensuring that human rights concerns are addressed so that internally displaced persons receive the protection they require and to which they are entitled. Each section is supplemented with certain examples brought to the fore during the meetings attended by the Representative. The document ends with specific recommendations for future action in Section V.