The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: Annotations, 2nd Edition

Walter Kälin
Walter Kälin Former Brookings Expert

May 22, 2008



Ten years ago, my predecessor in the office of the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, Francis M. Deng, submitted the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement to the then UN Commission on Human Rights. These Principles, although not a binding legal instrument, have since gained considerable authority. The Heads of State and Government assembled in New York for the September 2005 World Summit unanimously recognized them as an “important international framework for the protection of internally displaced persons.” (UN General Assembly GA Resolution A/60/L.1 para. 132), and the General Assembly has not only welcomed “the fact that an increasing number of States, United Nations agencies and regional and non-governmental organisations are applying them as a standard” but also encouraged “all relevant actors to make use of the Guiding Principles when dealing with situations of internal displacement” (A/RES/62/153, para. 10).

At the regional level, the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union) formally acknowledged the principles; the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called on its member states to disseminate and apply them; and in the Horn of Africa, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), in a ministerial declaration, called the principles a “useful tool” in the development of national policies on internal displacement. In Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recognized the principles as “a useful framework for the work of the OSCE” in dealing with internal displacement, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as well as its Council of Ministers urged its member states to incorporate the principles into their domestic laws.[1] The number of states that have incorporated the Guiding Principles into their domestic laws and policies is growing.

The Guiding Principles reflect and are consistent with international human rights law and international humanitarian law and to a large extent thus codify and make explicit guarantees protecting internally displaced persons that are inherent in these bodies of law. The first edition of the Annotations was intended to facilitate access to these legal sources. They, too, were favourably received. In Article 6 (2) of the 2006 Protocol on the Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons the Member States of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (Great Lakes IDP Protocol) even “accept to use the Annotations of the Guiding Principles as an authoritative source for interpreting the application of the Guiding Principles” which they undertake to incorporate into their domestic legal orders.

The 10th anniversary of the Guiding Principles provides a fitting occasion to publish a second edition of the Annotations. It follows very closely the structure and content of the first edition but reflects the significant legal developments that have taken place since the publication of the Annotations in 2000. These developments include the seminal 2005 study prepared under the auspices of the ICRC on customary international humanitarian law containing rich material on displacement related issues,[2] a series of new human rights instruments with some significance for the displaced including the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (A/RES/61/295 of 13 September 2007), the 2001 Draft articles of the International Law Commission on state responsibility (A/RES/56/83, Annex) clarifying when disregard of human rights by non-state actors may amount to breaches of international law entailing state responsibility, the “Pinheiro” Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons (E/CN.4/Sub.2/2005/17 and E/CN.4/Sub.2/2005/17/Add.1), and the Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in 2006 by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing (A/HRC/4/18, Annex I). More generally the practice of the UN Security Council and General Assembly since the turn of the century, recent developments at the regional level, in particular the Great Lakes IDP Protocol, and emerging state practice regarding the application of the Guiding Principles are all relevant, too. They contribute to solidifying the legal foundations of the Principles and thus strengthen them as a standard capable of improving the condition of internally displaced individuals, families and communities all over the world.

Walter Kälin

Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons

[1] See Roberta Cohen, The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: An Innovation in International Standard Setting, Global Governance 10 (2004), 459-480, and 469-70.


[2] Jean Louis Henkaerts/Louise Doswald-Beck, Customary International Humanitarian Law, Volume I: Rules, Cambridge, 2005.