On the Record

Keynote Address by Walter Kaelin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons

Let me begin by expressing my appreciation for the invitation to address this important gathering and particularly for being given the opportunity to discuss the topic of resettlement in the development context and the risks associated with it for affected persons. I am delighted about this opportunity for an exchange of views between development and human rights specialists.

The notion that links the two communities is that of a rights-based approach to development which has gained so much ground in recent years. At its core, this concept expresses the idea that human beings should not be the objects but the subjects and agents of development and that, therefore, economic growth alone cannot guarantee sustainable development. Rather, the ultimate goal of development is to enable everyone in society to live a life in freedom and dignity. In this perspective, the beneficiaries of development activities are regarded as being entitled to the full enjoyment of all their human rights including economic, social and cultural rights.

The rights-based approach to development emphasizes the complementarity of development and human rights goals and, in fact sustainable development without human rights is as difficult to imagine as human rights without development. Thus, in principle, development and human rights go hand in hand.

We must, however, realize that tensions between development and human rights may arise under certain circumstances and that such tensions must be acknowledged and addressed in accordance with the basic principle of “do no harm”, a principle that is not only relevant for humanitarian but also development workers. Resettlement as a consequence of development projects, particularly if it is not voluntary, is one area where such tensions often arise, and it is the area I am concerned with in my capacity as Representative of the UN Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons. In this capacity I have been tasked with entering into dialogue with governments, organizations and other relevant actors on how to improve the protection of the rights of internally displaced persons.

In this context, internally displaced persons are defined as “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border” (1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement). This notion highlights two elements: (1) the coercive or otherwise involuntary character of movement, whatever the reason, and (2) the fact that such movement takes place within national borders. The list of causes of displacement is not exhaustive and the notion covers persons who are obliged to leave their homes and places of residence because of development projects. In this context, it is important to note that the notion of “displacement” is neutral in the sense of covering both situations where persons are forced to leave for illegitimate reasons and in violation of their rights and instances of evacuations and relocations/resettlements that are involuntary but perfectly legitimate and legal. Thus, the notion of displacement as used within the framework of my mandate includes instances of involuntary resettlement in the context of development projects such as dams, roads, airports, industrial or tourist complexes and other infrastructure projects.

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