The Global Challenge of Internal Displacement

Francis M. Deng
Francis M. Deng Former Brookings Expert

November 18, 2000

It is a great honor and privilege to have been invited to address this auspicious colloquium inaugurating an institute that promises to play a vital role in the development and promotion of global legal studies.

I do so with humility and in the realization that my only comparative advantage is to share with you reflections derived from my experience as the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons. This, of course, explains the title of my talk – The Global Challenge of Internal Displacement.

I would like to address the subject of internal displacement from the perspective of four thematic issues: the magnitude of the crisis, my conceptual approach to the mandate, the scope of activities I have undertaken pursuant to the mandate, and the need to address the root causes of internal displacement.

When the Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali surprised me with a phone call in 1992, offering me the position of Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, I told him that while I was honored by his offer, I would appreciate getting more details on what would be required of me before responding. Boutros-Ghali, whom I had known as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Egypt when I was Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Sudan, responded with moral authority, “Come on, Francis, I know how concerned you are with this problem,” he said. “It is not only a global crisis, but one from which our continent of Africa is the most affected and in Africa, your own country, the Sudan is the worst hit, and in the Sudan, your own people in the South are the victims. So, I don’t see how you can say ‘no.’ Let us say that you have accepted and if later you change your mind, we can discuss further.”

Boutros-Ghali was right. Internal displacement is a global crisis affecting some 20 to 25 million people in over 40 countries, literally in all regions of the world. And Africa, with half the world’s displaced populations in some 21 countries, is the worst hit. The situation in Africa continues to worsen with every crisis that ensues. And in Africa, my own country, the Sudan, with 4 million internally displaced people is the most affected. And in the Sudan, the people of the South, a region which has been ravaged by a chronic civil war that has raged intermittently for over four decades, are the primary victims. For me, therefore, this is not only a challenge to humankind the world over, it is a humanitarian and human rights tragedy that is close to home.

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