Past Event

Internal Displacement in the Americas

Wednesday, February 18 - Friday, February 20, 2004

The first regional seminar on internal displacement in the Americas was held in Mexico City on 18-20 February 2004, hosted by the Government of Mexico and co-sponsored by the Brookings-SAIS Project and the Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons. The seminar was convened to examine current trends in internal displacement in the Americas and strengthen the national, regional, and international response.

There are an estimated 3.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Americas, the majority in Colombia, which now has the third largest IDP population in the world. Numbers are much fewer in Mexico, but their situation remains precarious and only recently has it begun to receive attention. In Guatemala and Peru, many IDPs continue to lack sustainable solutions even though the conflicts ended several years back. Most IDPs in the Americas are in need of humanitarian aid, protection, and support for reintegration. Disproportionately affected by displacement are Afro-Colombians and indigenous populations.

Among the more than sixty participants were representatives of the Governments of Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, national human rights institutions, local and international non-governmental organizations, leaders of internally displaced communities, representatives of the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS), the World Bank, and experts from research institutions.

The seminar produced a Framework for Action, which identifies steps to be taken by governments to improve the plight of the displaced in the Americas. In particular, the Framework calls upon governments to:

  • Acknowledge the problem of internal displacement and build a national consensus around the issue.
  • Ensure that the national response covers all groups, in particular indigenous people, Afro-Colombians and others who have been marginalized, and addresses the injustices and social divides that fueled the displacement in the first place.
  • Develop national laws and policies to uphold the rights of IDPs, with adequate enforcement mechanisms. Designate a national institutional focal point with authority and resources to promote an effective national response.
  • Increase the engagement of national human rights institutions with IDPs, including monitoring how policies and laws are implemented, investigating IDP complaints and providing guidance to governments.
  • Train government officials, the military, police and parliamentarians in issues of internal displacement and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.
  • Collect data on the numbers and conditions of IDPs.
  • Establish formal consultation mechanisms with IDPs to ensure their full participation in the planning and implementation of policies and programs, with special attention paid to women heads of household.
  • Strengthen security for IDPs and those working on their behalf — given the deliberate attacks on IDP leaders, NGOs, and academics conducting research into displacement — and bring to justice those responsible.
  • Establish dialogues with insurgent groups to gain access to IDPs in their areas of control.
  • Support sustainable solutions for IDPs, in particular their right to return voluntarily or resettle in another part of the country (“under no circumstances should IDPs be forced to return home or resettle elsewhere in the country against their will,” the Framework asserts), be protected in areas of return or resettlement, and receive reintegration assistance and compensation for lost property and possessions. Special attention should be given to “restoring access to land to indigenous and ethnic minorities” as a means of integrating them into the life of the nation and ending longstanding discrimination against them and to ensuring that property rights are accessible to women.

The Framework for Action also identifies steps that regional and international organizations can play in reinforcing national responsibility, in particular reporting on the implementation of national laws and policies, advocating with governments on behalf of IDPs, establishing enlarged presence in areas where IDPs are under threat, and facilitating negotiations between governments and non-state actors.

Download the seminar report »