The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: Their Reception Internationally

Simon Bagshaw
Simon Bagshaw Assistant to the Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons

September 1, 2001

We have heard this morning about the background to the development of the Principles, about their origin and about their content. But what about their reception? How have they been received? To what extent are they being used by the various different actors who have roles to play in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons? In particular, I am thinking here of Governments, United Nations agencies, regional organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Perhaps the short answer to all this, as Dr. Deng has already said, is that in the three years since their presentation to the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Guiding Principles have gained significant international recognition and standing. Or, to put it another way, the Principles have been well-received; are being widely used; and increasingly so. Indeed, an increasing number of Governments, international organisations, regional bodies and NGOs are basing policies, programmes and legislation on the Guiding Principles.

A number of reasons account for this. First, and possibly the most fundamental reason for their positive reception and increasing use is that the Guiding Principles fill a gap. As Dr. Deng has said, many inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations had noted the need for a document to guide their work with internally displaced persons in the field; a document which sets forth in one place the rights of internally displaced persons and the obligations of governments and insurgent forces toward these populations. The Principles meet that need.

A second reason why the Guiding Principles have been positively received is because the process by which they were developed was broad-based and inclusive, in particular of those organisations which would actually use the Principles. Indeed, by the time the Representative of the Secretary-General presented the Principles to the UN in 1998, they had already been endorsed by a substantial number of influential international organisations and NGOs which had participated in their development. Most notably, all the international humanitarian, human rights and development organisations and NGO umbrella groups which make up the UN’s Inter-Agency Standing Committee endorsed the Principles and decided to integrate them into their work. They also spoke in support of the Principles in the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1998, in particular, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN Children’s Fund and the World Food Programme. NGOs also spoke in the Commission in support of the Principles and most importantly undertook a lobbying campaign on their behalf with key governments from the different geographic regions.

This leads us to another reason why the Principles were received relatively smoothly in the Commission, a governmental body, in 1998. And that is that key governments supported the Principles. The 53 governments in the Commission were more likely to react positively to the Principles when presented with a document strongly supported by governments. Austria took the lead as did some Nordic delegations but there were supporters in all the geographic blocs. The 1998 resolution, which was adopted by consensus and co-sponsored by more than 50 states from all regions, took note of the Principles, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s endorsement of the Principles and most importantly of the Representative’s intention to use the Principles in his work. Subsequently the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly followed suit in taking note of the Principles.

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