Header image for news printout


13 March 2009

The United Nations independent expert on internally displaced people, Walter Kalin, called Friday for more attention to be paid to some of the world’s most serious displacement crises, including those caused by natural disasters and by the conflicts in Somalia, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

“More than 26 million people in the world are displaced due to conflicts and violence,” Mr. Kalin said. “There is an urgent need for the international community to pay more attention to some of the worst crisis situations.”

Mr. Kalin, who is the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, was speaking shortly after presenting his annual report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is currently in session in Geneva.

He cited a number of the worst-affected countries, including Somalia: “More than 1.3 million internally displaced Somalis are struggling to survive in a void created by the absence of functioning State authorities that could protect them, and many find themselves in a life-threatening situation due to lack of water, food and medical assistance”, he said.

Mr. Kalin reminded States and armed groups to respect their obligations under human rights law and international humanitarian law, including the obligation not to arbitrarily prevent international humanitarian assistance from being delivered to those in need.

“4.7 million people, including 2.7 million internally displaced persons, are affected by the conflict in the Darfur region and rely on humanitarian assistance. I am very concerned about the Government of Sudan’s recent decision to expel 13 major international humanitarian organizations and revoke the licences of three national non-governmental organisations.” Without some of the major providers of humanitarian aid, Mr. Kalin feared the Sudanese Government would be unable to provide enough food, drinking water or basic healthcare for an extremely vulnerable population: “We could see a humanitarian catastrophe in the region. As a consequence of the Government’s action, the rights of large numbers of internally displaced persons to life, food, water and the highest attainable standard of health may be gravely affected”, he said.

On the conflict in Sri Lanka, Mr. Kalin called upon both parties to do their utmost to prevent civilian casualties and to allow for the safe evacuation of those trapped in the conflict zone. Mr. Kalin expressed grave concern at reports that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are preventing civilians from fleeing the conflict zone and may be holding civilians as human shields. Mr. Kalin also urged the Sri Lankan Government to provide all internally displaced persons escaping hostilities with all necessary protection and assistance. He recalled that internally displaced persons, as citizens, retain their right to freedom of movement and must not be confined to camps. While security screenings may be conducted upon arrival, they should be concluded promptly and individuals retained only in accord with judicial process and on the basis of individualized suspicion.

Mr. Kalin also expressed concern about internal displacement resulting from natural disasters: “Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and magnitude of natural disasters. This will also lead to more displacement”. “Governments have to make a greater effort to prepare for natural disasters, and in particular to protect disaster-affected populations, including the displaced,” he added.

Mr. Kalin, professor of law at the University of Bern (Switzerland), has been the Representative of the Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced People since 2004. His report to the tenth session of the Human Rights Council is available from: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/10session/reports.htm For additional information, please contact Jan Hessbruegge: Tel (41) 22 917 9192 Fax (41) 22 917 9006; Email: idp@ohchr.org


For use of the information media; not an official record