Statement of Erin Mooney at the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Internally Displaced Persons

November 4, 2004

Session I – State Responsibility Towards
Internally Displaced Persons:
Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of IDPs

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

My remarks today will focus upon the issue of national responsibility for addressing internal displacement. It is well recognized, and often emphasized, including by the OSCE, that because internally displaced persons remain within their own country, the primary responsibility for their protection and assistance rests with their governments. But what, concretely, does state responsibility towards IDPs mean? How can it be measured? Promoted? Supported?

In answer to these critical questions, I would suggest that there do indeed exist definite benchmarks of national responsibility for addressing internal displacement. Allow me to outline some of the key ones.

  • To begin with, and as the OSCE itself so often emphasizes, prevention is key. States have a responsibility, elaborated in the Guiding Principles, to provide persons under their territorial jurisdiction with protection against arbitrary displacement. As the OSCE previously has highlighted, preventive strategies, especially early warning combined with efforts to diffuse ethnic tensions, should be developed to avert mass displacement.
  • When internal displacement occurs, a state’s acknowledgement of the problem, and of its responsibility to address it is an essential first step towards an effective national response. In this connection, acknowledgement and use of the Guiding Principles is an important indicator of national responsibility. It also is a means of raising national awareness about the problem, promoting solidarity with the displaced and making addressing their plight a national priority.
  • Training government officials, including the military and police, on the rights of IDPs is essential to ensuring awareness by national actors of their responsibilities for protecting and assisting the displaced and to strengthening national capacity to effectively discharge these responsibilities. Translation of the Guiding Principles into local languages and their dissemination to government officials is an important component and indeed is a step that a number of OSCE states have already taken.
  • Ensuring security for IDPs and those working on their behalf. IDPs have a right to request and receive assistance and protection without risk of punishment or harm. An environment must exist where IDPs can do so. Greater efforts therefore must be made by governments to protect IDPs and communities at risk of displacement as well as those seeking to help them. Public information campaigns should be launched to sensitize government authorities, including the military and police as well as the public, about the humanitarian nature of the work of those assisting and advocating on behalf of IDPs.
  • A national response, it should go without saying, needs to be inclusive, covering all groups of internally displaced without discrimination. In the OSCE and around the world, internal displacement is a phenomenon that disproportionately affects minority ethnic groups. Once displaced, these already marginalized groups often face further discrimination and difficulty in accessing protection and assistance. As the OSCE has so often underscored, governments have a responsibility to protect of minorities and to undertake efforts to reduce ethnic tensions and promote peaceful coexistence.
  • Collecting data, disaggregated by gender and age, on the numbers, locations and conditions of IDPs is essential to designing effective programs to assist and protect them. The “IDP mapping exercise” initiated by the Government of Armenia in collaboration with the Norwegian Refugee Council provides an example of such an initiative.
  • Developing national legislation for addressing the needs and protecting the rights of IDPs is an important indicator of, and instrument for, discharging national responsibility. Such legislation should be comprehensive, covering all causes and phases of displacement, and be based on the provisions in the Guiding Principles. It should be developed in consultation with civil society and IDP communities. A pathbreaking example in this regard was the initiative by local lawyers’ groups in the South Caucasus, which was supported by the OSCE and led by Professor Kalin, to assess the extent to which national legislation in their countries corresponded with the Guiding Principles. Their findings and recommendations served to raise national awareness of existing legislation safeguarding the rights of IDPs and to stimulate important legislative reform enhancing national protection of IDPs’ rights.
  • The adoption of a national policy on internal displacement is a distinct, though complementary, measure to the enactment of national legislation. A national policy or plan of action on internal displacement should, for instance, spell out the responsibilities of different government departments for responding to internal displacement as well as to identify a mechanism for coordination among them. National policies on internal displacement should be developed in close consultation with civil society and IDPs and be widely disseminated, especially to IDPs, in their own language and in a format they can easily understand.
  • Designating a national institutional focal point on internal displacement is another ingredient critical to the carrying out of national responsibility for IDPs. The experience in a number of OSCE countries reveals different institutional options: for instance, this responsibility might be mandated to one specific government agency; or it may be vested in a government committee, working group, or task force on IDPs that regularly brings together officials from the relevant ministries and departments to jointly discuss and coordinate the national response. Whatever the institutional option selected, it is essential that the institutional entity tasked with responsibility for IDPs to have a mandate for both assistance and protection. This body must have the political authority as well as adequate resources to carry out its mandate. Its staff must be trained on issues of internal displacement, including the Guiding Principles, and should be expected to play the leading role in implementing national law and policy on internal displacement.
  • National human rights institutions, too, can play an important role in ensuring the promotion and protection of the rights of IDPs. They should be encouraged and supported to do so.
  • Allocating adequate resources to address internal displacement is not only necessary to carrying out effective responses, but also is key to signaling that addressing the plight of the internally displaced truly is a national priority. When a government lacks the capacity to fully address the needs of the internally displaced, its indication, in particular through budgetary allocations, that the issue of internal displacement constitutes a national priority, can be important in attracting international financial assistance in support of national efforts.
  • Encouraging and facilitating the participation of IDPs in the planning and implementation of policies and programs intended to address their situation is another key indicator of national responsibility. National as well as international responses to internal displacement can be significantly informed and enhanced through consultation with IDP associations and civil society. The views of IDPs should be systematically sought out as well as taken into account.
  • Safeguarding the right of internally displaced persons to vote clearly falls under the realm of national responsibility and is a particularly important means of ensuring that IDPs have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. The OSCE, recognizing that IDPs in the region often face difficulties in exercising their right to vote, has recommended that the voting rights of IDPs should be a matter of “special scrutiny” and, at its SHDM on electoral standards in July, that the issue of IDP voting rights should be mainstreamed within the OSCE. Underscoring the importance of doing so is a new study of the voting rights of IDPs in all 13 countries of the OSCE region, which reveals that IDPs continue to face obstacles in voting. However, this study also identifies several steps that can and should be taken by the OSCE and its participating states to ensure that IDPs do not remain disenfranchised.
  • Governments have a responsibility to support durable solutions to internal displacement, in particular by establishing the conditions enabling IDPs to return to their place of origin or, if they choose, to resettle elsewhere, and to do so voluntarily and in safety and dignity. Under no circumstances should IDPs be encouraged or compelled to return home, or to resettle, to areas where their physical security cannot be assured. Where possible, international monitors should accompany returns in order to verify that the process is voluntary and that conditions of safety exist; the OSCE, together with UNHCR, played a valuable role in monitoring returns in Tajikistan, for instance.
  • Moreover, whether IDPs choose to return or resettle, they should be provided with reintegration assistance. Indeed, strategies supporting self-sufficiency should be introduced as soon as possible after displacement occurs so as to avoid creating long-term dependency and instead promote IDPs’ economic and social reintegration. Further, the authorities have a responsibility to assist IDPs with property restitution or compensation. This also is an area where the OSCE/ODIHR has developed strong expertise and can make a valuable contribution to national efforts.
  • Indeed, another sign of national responsibility is working with, and giving safe and unimpeded access to, regional and international organizations helping to ensure relief, protection and reintegration assistance for internally displaced persons. Regional and international organizations, who should be seen as partners, can provide valuable support, including technical cooperation as well as assistance in resource mobilization, to governments that demonstrate efforts to effectively discharge national responsibility for addressing internal displacement.

By way of conclusion, I would just note that these and other benchmarks of national responsibility for addressing internal displacement have been embraced as a framework for action in the Americas, are being promoted by inter-governmental organizations such as the Commonwealth, and have been incorporated into training material for government officials by the International Organization for Migration. These benchmarks could similarly serve as a reference and a tool to assist the OSCE in its efforts to reinforce and help realize the commitments made by participating states to address the problem of internal displacement, in particular those commitments emphasizing the primary importance of national responsibility and urging states to take the necessary steps to fulfill this responsibility.