Realizing National Responsibility for the Protection of Internally Displaced Persons in Afghanistan: A Review of Relevant Laws, Policies, and Practices

November 30, 2010


The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement are universally recognized as the normative starting point for developing laws, policies, and practices at the national level for the protection of IDPs. In addition to affirming the fundamental rights and freedoms of those who have been displaced within the borders of their own countries, the Guiding Principles make clear that national authorities are responsible for protecting these rights and for facilitating durable solutions for the internally displaced. The Guiding Principles provide that national authorities have the “primary duty and responsibility” to protect and assist victims of internal displacement. While international actors have a role to play, it is generally construed in most situations of internal displacement as subsidiary to that of the national authorities.

The framework for protecting the human rights of IDPs established by the Guiding Principles is based on the fundamental principle of “sovereignty as responsibility.” At its core, this principle recognizes the general right of sovereign and independent states to govern themselves and manage their own affairs without unwarranted external interference. However, sovereignty is no longer viewed in absolute terms or as a license to govern unjustly and inhumanely. Exercising sovereignty within the contemporary system of international relations entails a duty to do so in a responsible manner. This requires states to respect human rights and to provide protection and assistance to everyone within their borders. IDPs are no exception. The legal protection of their human rights is a responsibility of national authorities that must be fulfilled. Moreover, because internal displacement gives rise to particular needs, special measures should be taken to address these needs and ensure that IDPs are treated equally and without discrimination.

In situations of internal displacement, such as that found in Afghanistan, exercising national sovereignty in a responsible manner and protecting the rights and freedoms of IDPs can be a complex challenge. Although the Guiding Principles underscore that national authorities have the primary duty to protect and assist IDPs, this instrument does not provide specific guidance to national authorities on what concrete steps should be taken in order to fulfill this duty. The Guiding Principles is focused first and foremost on affirming the rights enjoyed by those who have been displaced as well as the general obligations of national and other authorities towards them. It is not intended to serve as a technical or operational guide for preventing displacement, protecting the human rights of those who have been internally displaced, or establishing the conditions to facilitate return or other durable solutions.