The Genesis and the Challenges of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

Roberta Cohen and
Roberta Cohen Former Brookings Expert, Co-Chair Emeritus - Committee for Human Rights in North Korea
Francis M. Deng
Francis M. Deng Former Brookings Expert

December 31, 2008


The need for international standards to protect and assist internally displaced persons arose directly from the explosion of civil wars in the last decade of the 20th century that left tens of millions uprooted within their borders of their own countries.

The 1951 Refugee Convention did not apply to internally displaced persons. Principal responsibility for providing for the well-being and security of IDPs rested with their governments but most were unable or unwilling to to assume this obligation. Nor did international organisations and NGOs have clear rules of engagement with the rapidly growing numbers of IDPs in need of assistance. Many thus began appealing for an international document that would define the rights of IDPs and the obligations of governments towards them.

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forced_migration_cover001.jpg  This article appears in a 40-page special issue of FMR that reflects discussions at the international conference on the Ten Years of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement – GP10 – held in Oslo on 16-17 October 2008. It will be available in English, Arabic, French and Spanish. The English edition is now online at