(Statement by the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons)
BAGHDAD (29 September 2010) – “The complexity of the internal displacement situation in Iraq requires stronger efforts by the Government and the international community to protect the human rights of displaced persons, address their immediate needs and find durable solutions to end their displacement” said the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kaelin, during his 8-day visit to Iraq. “This can only be done on the basis of an inclusive and comprehensive strategy that takes into account all communities affected by displacement, including host communities and communities in areas of return.”
“I am encouraged by the progress to date, and in particular by the cooperation between the Iraqi authorities and the international community to address the humanitarian and human rights situation of displaced persons in Iraq,” Mr. Kaelin stated. Significant achievements to date have included the national policy on displacement of July 2008 and special measures introduced to facilitate return, reintegration and restitution of property.
In addition, the Representative commended the Government for the important commitments made in relation to displaced persons during the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in February of this year - a process by which a State’s human rights situation is periodically reviewed and recommendations made.
“I believe that this visit is an opportunity to build upon and carry forward these recommendations, which were agreed by the Iraqi Government.” Mr. Kaelin stressed that “we stand ready to support the Government’s stated commitments to develop a national action plan to provide assistance and compensation to internally displaced persons and, in this context, to pay specific attention to persons with special needs, including displaced widows, female headed households, and children”.
Iraq has suffered many waves of internal displacement throughout its recent past as a result of conflict, sectarian violence, and forced population movements associated with policies of the former regime. According to Government figures, an estimated 1.55 million persons have remained in displacement since 2006, while a significant number of people were also displaced prior to 2006.
Some 500,000 Iraqis, a majority of whom are believed to be internally displaced persons, currently live in informal settlements in Baghdad and other cities on land or in public buildings which they do not own and face potential eviction. “I am calling on competent authorities to declare a moratorium on evictions until the envisaged new strategy on internal displacement provides a clear plan and viable alternatives for these persons which are in line with international standards,” the Representative said.
Suffering severe over-crowding and inadequate shelters, internally displaced people in these irregular settlements have limited or no access to water and other essential services such as sanitation facilities and garbage collection. This creates serious health hazards, particularly among children and the elderly. “Measures should be immediately taken to address the dire living conditions in these settlements, and efforts must be strengthened to find alternative housing and long term solutions, including allocation of land plots” stressed Mr. Kaelin.
“A two-pronged approach is necessary to address the situation of internal displacement in Iraq”, said the Representative. “Efforts to identify and implement durable solutions for displaced persons in the country is a political imperative, a development challenge and a vital part of the national reconciliation and peace-building process.”
“At the same time, immediate humanitarian needs and human rights must be addressed for all displacement-affected communities, including equitable access to basic services, registration as internally displaced persons, and provision of personal documentation for those who may have lost it,” Mr. Kaelin said. In this regard, he welcomed the Government’s willingness to re-open registration to internally displaced persons, in order to better assist them with their displacement-specific needs.
“I was pleased to learn that the Government is currently in the process of developing a strategy on durable solutions to displacement in Iraq. It is important that such a strategy be comprehensive in its scope and include the full range of durable solutions, including return, local integration or settlement in a different location”, stressed the Representative.
Such strategy should ensure that all internally displaced persons, irrespective of when they were displaced, should have equal access to durable solutions. He added that local integration, in particular, may be the only feasible solution for those who fear return or do not wish to go back to their former place of residence for other reasons.
“To take this decision is their right as citizens of Iraq; it is their constitutional right to choose their place of residence. In this regard, the Government has informed me of recent plans to assess the potential for local integration of persons who do not wish to return to their place of origin”, noted Mr. Kaelin. He encouraged a process of consultation with displacement-affected communities as an essential element to securing a long lasting solution.
Mr. Kaelin also noted the efforts by the Government to address a broad range of property restitution needs, as well as measures taken to simplify and facilitate procedures to establish ownership of land or houses. This has enabled the restitution of some 3800 properties to date. “The experience gained to date can now contribute to the ongoing efforts of the Iraqi Government to improve fairness and efficiency in property restitution” underlined the Representative.
The Representative called on the Iraqi Government and the international community to provide sufficient resources to address the great human rights and social challenges created by displacement. Finally, Mr. Kaelin highlighted the importance of specifically including displacement issues into all relevant development plans and programs. This will contribute to rebuilding not only the lives of displaced communities but also to the recovery of Iraq as such, since finding durable solutions for the displaced is an essential part of successful peace-building.
During his stay in Baghdad, the Representative met with the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, the Implementation and Follow-up Committee for National Reconciliation, the Minister of Human Rights, and representatives of the international community. He also visited internally displaced persons living in informal settlements in the Baghdad area.
Walter Kaelin, professor of law at the University of Bern (Switzerland), has been the Representative of the Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons since 2004.
Learn more about the mandate and work of the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/idp/index.htm
OHCHR Country Page – Iraq: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/IQIndex.aspx
For additional information and press inquiries, please contact the secretariat, Ms Rosa da Costa (Tel. +41 22 917 9140 (as of 05 October) / e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).