Florence Jaoko, Chair of the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, welcomed participants to this workshop, explaining that it sought to build on the October 2007 Kigali meeting of the 6th Conference on African National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) by providing a forum for discussion of internal displacement. Walter Kälin, the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (RSG) noted that the meeting had three objectives:
- to provide an overview of the legal and normative framework for protection of IDPs,
- to provide a forum for sharing experiences of NHRIs in working with IDPs and, most importantly,
- to discuss possible strategies for NHRIs in continuing or expanding their work with IDPs.
He expressed appreciation for the recommendation of the Kigali conference to encourage NHRIs to cooperate with his mandate which also calls on him to enter into dialogue not only with governments but all relevant actors and institutions, including NHRIs. The issue of internal displacement is a major concern for African countries. In addition to those displaced by natural disasters and large-scale development projects, half of the world’s 26 million conflict-induced IDPs are in African countries.
Gianni Magazzeni, of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed appreciation for this workshop and the hope that it would lead to a greater appreciation of NHRIs’ strategic engagement with IDPs. He reminded participants that NHRIs are established by states to protect the human rights of citizens while the Paris Principles assure their independence. In particular, he noted that NHRIs are well-placed to play the following roles:
- Advocacy for the development or review of national legislation
- Handling complaints by IDPs and facilitating their access to legal institutions
- Carrying out investigations on their own initiative
- Cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms, including treaty bodies and special procedures, especially with the RSG by submitting information to him and supporting and following-up his missions
- Promoting the rights of IDPs through awareness-raising and educational campaigns
- Working with stakeholders on particular activities that respond to specific needs
- Contributing to the African Union Convention on Internal Displacement by providing substantive input and by mobilizing support for its adoption and ratification.
For its part, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides support for the work of the RSG and can increase mainstreaming of IDP protection in human rights instruments not only through the Human Rights Council and Special Procedures, but also through field offices and regional human rights advisors.
Sylvie Kayitesi, Chair of the Human Rights Network of African NHRIs and President of the Rwanda National Commission for Human Rights (Commission Nationale des Droits de l’Homme) noted that today most NHRIs are working on IDP issues. For example, the Rwandan Commission undertakes regular visits to people displaced by natural disasters. National institutions can play an important role not only in working with IDPs in their own countries, but in working through sub-regional instruments, such as the Great Lakes Protocol and in mobilizing support for a new AU Convention on Internal displacement.