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Human Rights Council holds panel discussion on the human rights of internally displaced persons

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26 June 2018

AFTERNOON

GENEVA (26 June 2018) - The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a panel discussion on the human rights of internally displaced persons, in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.  

In his opening statement, Adam Abdelmoula, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that internal displacement and cross-border migration frequently shared common drivers.  Internally displaced persons should, thus, be included as part of the bigger migration challenge, and further analysis of the linkages between violations of economic, social, civic, political and cultural rights and migration was needed.

Volker Türk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that 40 million people were uprooted inside their countries by conflict, violence and human rights violations.  Protection needed to drive humanitarian action, inspiring its operational design, coordination and implementation, as well as interactions with development, human rights, security and political actors.

Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons and panel moderator, introducing the panel discussion, said that the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement was an opportunity to take stock of achievements and challenges in the field.  

Maya Sahli Fadel, Member of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, said that internal displacement affected 35 African Union Member States, and that there were some 30 million internally displaced persons on the continent.  

Alba Marcela Castañeda, Under-Secretary for Human Rights of Honduras, said that the Inter-Institutional Commission for the Protection of Displaced Persons due to Violence had been created in 2013, to investigate, study and diagnose trends, causes and actors that generated forced displacement, and the impact of displacement at the national level.

Nazhat Shameem Khan, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations Office in Geneva, said that the report by the Special Rapporteur Jimenez-Damary offered an overview of the current evidence of the complex relationship between climate change and human mobility, and would support a development of an informed global discourse across the humanitarian, peace and sustainable development agendas.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers reminded that, as the world celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles, millions of people in all regions of the world continued to be displaced.  The international community had fallen short in the global effort to prevent, reduce and address internal displacement, which in the two decades since the adoption of the Guiding Principles had doubled.  Speakers noted an urgent need for a whole-of-system approach to internal displacement at the United Nations.  It was regrettable that the situation of internally displaced persons continued to be overlooked; to move forward, it was important to focus on the national level, find context-specific solutions for internally displaced persons, and ensure their participation.

Speaking were the European Union, Togo on behalf of the African Group, United Arab Emirates on behalf of the League of Arab States, China, Azerbaijan, Russia, Colombia, Ecuador, Iraq, Venezuela, Serbia, Denmark, Botswana, Lesotho, United Nations Development Programme, Ireland, Austria, United Kingdom, Syria, Switzerland, Kuwait, Armenia, Tunisia, and Norway.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions; Christian Aid; Franciscans International; Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man; Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik and Instituto Internationale Maria Ausiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco.

The Council will next meet on Wednesday, 27 June, at 9 a.m. for a full day of meetings.  It will first hear the presentation of an oral update by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and hold an interactive dialogue on this human rights situation.  Next, it will discuss the situation of human rights in Myanmar with the Special Rapporteur, and then hold a general debate on situations that require the Council’s attention.  At the end of the day, the Council will hear a presentation of the report by the Forum on Business and Human Rights, to be followed by a general debate on human rights bodies and mechanisms.

Opening Statements

ADAM ABDELMOULA, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that human rights were critical to the shared understanding of the complex drivers of internal displacement.  While the impact of displacement was indiscriminate, those in already vulnerable situations were at the greatest risk of being displaced and suffering additional harm as a result.  The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were consistent with international human rights law, said Mr. Abdelmoula, who insisted that internally displaced persons were entitled to all human rights accorded to citizens, irrespective of the causes of their displacement and without discrimination.  Internal displacement and cross-border migration frequently shared common drivers, he said, thus internally displaced persons should be included as part of the bigger migration challenge.  Further analysis of the linkages between violations of economic, social, civil, political and cultural rights and migration was needed.  It was necessary to address those factors that propelled people to move in order to safeguard their rights and dignity, and to appropriately respond to the consequences of such displacement.  

Internally displaced persons were usually among the poorest of the poor, and women and children were often disproportionately affected.  Devoid of rights, solutions to displacement would remain elusive, as demonstrated by the growing number of people living in protracted displacement situations.  “Leaving no one behind” required addressing patterns of exclusion and unequal power relations, which internally displaced persons faced in many instances.  It required supporting legal, policy, institutional and other measures, using a human rights-based approach that promoted equality and inclusion in support of durable solutions.  It also meant free, active and meaningful participation of all citizens, particularly internally displaced persons themselves, in all those processes, to ensure accountability and sustainability of solutions.  None of the Sustainable Development Goals included targets for internally displaced persons as a specific group, said Mr. Abdelmoula, while very few States included internally displaced persons within their national voluntary reviews.  Internally displaced persons had to be included in efforts to improve data collection, disaggregation and understanding of the experiences of affected populations, while respecting their right to privacy.  Where people remained trapped in displacement, there was a high risk of inequality, unstainable development, and recurrent violence, Mr. Abdelmoula concluded.

VOLKER TÜRK, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that in 2017, the world had unfortunately reached a record high, with 68.5 million people displaced by conflict, violence and serious human rights violations.  Of those, about 40 million people were uprooted inside their countries, but in public debates it was sometimes forgotten that most displaced people were actually internally displaced.  It was important not to forget that 18.8 million people had been displaced by natural disasters in 2017, including individuals who had been displaced several times.  It was clear from those figures that the international community as a whole must strongly focus on supporting countries affected by internal displacement.  The Guiding Principles on International Displacement were foundational, said Mr. Türk, and over time had become the authoritative point of reference for normative and institutional frameworks, with 24 States directly referencing them in their national laws.  Inspired by the Guiding Principles, the African Union had adopted the Kampala Convention 10 years ago, as a first legally binding document.  The Guiding Principles were a source of inspiration and empowerment for internally displaced persons, noted the Assistant High Commissioner.  

Protection in essence meant human rights in action and the people themselves at the centre of that action.  Protection must drive humanitarian action, and inspire its operational design, coordination, and implementation, as well as interactions with development, human rights, security and political actors.  First, displaced persons and communities had to be placed at the centre of protection work, through advocating for their rights, involving them in decision making, understanding reasons behind their plight, and seeking to redress their situation through hands-on operational engagement.  Second, it meant providing concrete, quality protection services, such as access to documents as shown in the case of Honduras or in the Mosul emergency, or reuniting children with families as was being done in the Central African Republic.  Third, protection had to be integrated into every service that was being delivered, for example, layout of camps must consider women’s protection from violence.  Nigeria and Niger were recent examples of best practices with regard to the inclusion of internally displaced persons, while Colombia, Georgia and other countries offered examples of the creation of strong institutions, including judicial systems, for the protection of internally displaced persons.    

Statements by the Moderator and the Panellists

CECILIA JIMENEZ-DAMARY, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons and panel moderator, said the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement was an opportunity to take stock of achievements and challenges in the field.  In 2017, 40 million people had been displaced in their countries by conflict and violence, with another 18.8 million displaced by disasters.  Millions of other displaced persons were not being systematically captured, including those displaced by land grabs and criminal violence.  Ms. Jimenez-Damary said the all-female panel would provide a comprehensive view of the situation of internally displaced persons around the world.

MAYA SAHLI FADEL, Member of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, said that African States accorded due attention to the issue of internal displacement, which affected 35 African Union Member States.  People in Africa were displaced by a wide range of factors and, currently, there were some 30 million internally displaced persons in the continent.  The Guiding Principles were taken on by African States to better address the issue, and several States had already integrated the Principles into their national legislation.  Africa was impacted by massive displacement.  Adoption of the Kampala Convention created a regional legally binding instrument that upheld the rights of internally displaced persons.  It highlighted the fact that African countries had the political will to protect displaced persons through legally binding mechanisms.  Most of the Guiding Principles were represented in the Convention.  A specialized committee on migrants and refugees had also been established by the African Union.

ALBA MARCELA CASTAÑEDA, Under-Secretary for Human Rights of Honduras, said that the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement represented international standards and guided international actions to take care of the needs of internally displaced persons.  In Honduras, the increase in organized crime in its different forms and gang violence, coupled with the lack of appropriate protection mechanisms, had forced a great number of persons to leave their homes in order to protect their lives, liberty and wellbeing, requiring a response from the State.  In 2013, Honduras had created the Inter-Institutional Commission for the Protection of Displaced Persons due to Violence, with a mission to investigate, study and diagnose trends, causes and actors that generated forced displacement due to violence, the most affected communities, and the impact of displacement at the national level.  Its first report, published in 2015, showed the magnitude of internal displacement in the country: during the 2004 to 2014 period, more than 174,000 persons, or 40,000 homes, had been displaced in 20 municipalities.  The report had contributed to the design of policies and measures to respond to internal displacement, and drafting a bill on prevention, care and protection of internally displaced persons.  Additionally, the Secretariat of Human Rights had begun a consultation process with the most vulnerable internally displaced populations, such as women, children and adolescents, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, educators, transporters and traders.  

NAZHAT SHAMEEM KHAN, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations Office in Geneva, noted that droughts, floods, intense hurricanes and cyclones, and rising sea levels had a devastating effect on the ability of land to sustain human population.  There was a lack of clarity in policies - both nationally and internationally- linking disasters, climate change and human mobility; as a result, the approach to such mobility by national governments and communities was often ad hoc.  The report by the Special Rapporteur Jimenez-Damary offered an overview of the current evidence of the complex relationship between climate change and human mobility, and as such would support the development of an informed global discourse across the humanitarian, peace and sustainable development agendas.  According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 18.8 million people had been newly displaced by sudden-onset climate-related hazards in 2017, representing 61 per cent of all newly displaced persons.  The people in the Pacific understood well the link between sustainable development and displacement and had to develop strategies to mitigate it.  Adapting to climate change meant dealing with displacement, especially in the Pacific, she said, adding that in Fiji, 63 villages would have to move which would be done in a participative and inclusive manner, and with the consent of the people.

Discussion

European Union strongly supported the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and continued promoting their inclusion into national and international law.  Agreeing that conflict and human rights abuses were linked to displacement, the European Union stressed that all efforts must focus on meeting humanitarian needs, and asked how displaced persons could participate in international dialogue.  Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, was worried that the number of displaced persons had consistently grown, and said that tackling root causes of the problem required lasting solutions that prevented trans-border displacement.  Restricting freedom of movement was not a viable way of mitigating displacement.  United Arab Emirates, speaking on behalf of the League of Arab States, said that meeting the needs of internally displaced persons through sustainable solutions must be the global goal; to that end, partnerships must work more effectively.  

China said that internal displacement was caused by a wide range of problems and reiterated the duty of States to provide assistance to internally displaced persons under their jurisdiction, and to seek durable solutions.  Azerbaijan was hosting a large number of persons internally displaced by the Armenian occupation, and who had lost family, property and land.  The only way to achieve sustainable solutions was to ensure safe and dignified return of displaced persons.  Russia was guided by the need to seek lasting solutions for internal displacement and said that political solutions and conflict prevention would yield positive results.  Russia said that States like Ukraine were responsible for existing internal displacement problems, and noted the decrease in the number of internally displaced persons in Syria.

Following the signing of peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC), the number of internally displaced persons had reduced, said Colombia, which noted the continued challenges in registering internally displaced persons, ensuring their participation in policy design, and involving the private sector in creating opportunities.  Ecuador approached the situation of internally displaced persons in a holistic manner, especially in northern border areas of the country.  The rise in distinct threats had generated new dynamics of mobility, which required the State to guarantee respect for the human rights, security and development of all persons.  Iraq reminded that it had experienced many waves of displacement due to the fight against terrorism.  Aid and assistance to internally displaced persons were some of the priorities of the Government, as well as securing the right of internally displaced persons to take part in elections.      

Venezuela noted that imposing unilateral coercive measures could lead to the deterioration of the rights of internally displaced persons.  Internal displacement shattered families, social and cultural links, and undermined the right to development.  Serbia reminded that almost 20 years since the North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing of Serbia, there were still many internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija, as regrettably only five per cent of the displaced population had returned, and only some 2,500 had had sustainable return.  Denmark regretted that the situation of internally displaced persons continued to be overlooked, and stressed that, in order to move forward, it was important to focus on the national level, find context-specific solutions for internally displaced persons, and ensure their participation.

Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions said that, as the world celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles, millions of people in all regions of the world continued to be displaced, and stressed that national human rights institutions were making unique contributions to the protection of the rights of internally displaced persons, including in Afghanistan, Colombia, Nigeria, and Ukraine.  Christian Aid said it was a part of the GP20 campaign on internal displacement, and called on States to join.  The priority of strengthening the participation of internally displaced persons was core to making the aims of the campaign a reality.  Franciscans International noted that many internally displaced persons were not aware of the Guiding Principles and their rights, and called upon Brazil to avoid the militarization of hosting centres, which was contrary to migration objectives and the rights of indigenous peoples.  

Botswana said that a lot had been achieved in the promotion, mainstreaming and protection of the human rights of internally displaced persons through the Guiding Principles, and yet, it was worrisome that at its twentieth anniversary, 40 million people were internally displaced.  Lesotho said that the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles was an opportunity to take stock of the achievements, best practices, shortcomings and challenges that lay ahead, and stressed that issues affecting internally displaced persons had human rights and humanitarian dimensions that had to be tackled strategically, to accomplish protection and assistance.  United Nations Development Programme said its new strategic plan prioritized displacement solutions under its resilience building agenda, and reiterated that it applied a development approach when assisting national and local governments, including by supporting institutional development, addressing root causes, and supporting return and reintegration in over 30 countries.  

Ireland said that half of the world’s displaced persons were displaced within the borders of their own countries and recognized that their situation was often more difficult than that of refugees.  It was time for the international community to recognize that internal displacement deserved the same level of attention as cross-border movements.  Austria said the international community did not place enough attention to the plight of internally displaced persons, and suggesting that a better assessment of the impacts of internal displacement would compel States to take action, asked what kind of evidence was needed to improve responses.  United Kingdom noted that over 40 million people had been internally displaced in 2017.  The twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles presented an opportunity to establish better approaches to the problem.  Violent conflict was a driver of displacement in many parts of the world.

Syria said the Guiding Principles were useful but not binding as they resulted from the work of a group of experts.  States bore the responsibility for assisting internally displaced persons within their borders.  Terrorism and terrorist acts constituted the main causes of displacement in many countries and were not covered in the Guiding Principles.  Switzerland welcomed projects underway to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles, and noted that internally displaced persons, refugees and migrants often faced the same challenges.  The international community must seek solutions that would meet humanitarian needs regardless of migration status.  Kuwait said it was a hub for humanitarian action, and that from 1990 to 2014, it had provided financial aid and assistance to victims of natural disasters.  Kuwait was still active in several fora to provide assistance to internally displaced persons, and reiterated the importance of observing the Guiding Principles.

Armenia said that the primary responsibility for the protection of internally displaced persons rested with national authorities, which was why Armenia had been assisting its affected population since the early 1990s.  Armenia had never politicized the issue of displacement at the expense of human rights and dignity as Azerbaijan had done.  Tunisia stated that the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were needed more than ever, and that the international efforts to address the problem of displacement had not corresponded to the number of internally displaced persons.  Norway underlined that the international community had fallen short in the global effort to prevent, reduce and address internal displacement, which in the two decades since the adoption of the Guiding Principles had doubled.  There was an urgent need for a whole-of-system approach to internal displacement at the United Nations.

Al-Haq Law in the Service of Man reminded that the forced displacement of Palestinians had been a constant since 1948 and a driver of Israel’s prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territory since 1967.  The Guiding Principles prohibited displacement on the basis of policies of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and similar practices.  Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik drew attention to internal displacement in Iran, caused by man-made climate disasters, such as the one at Lake Urmia.  The construction of the Gatwand dam on salt grounds had caused the salinization of the drinking water which was no longer fit for consumption.  Instituto Internationale Maria Ausiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco stressed that, in order to avoid losing generations of displaced children and youth, it was vitally important to guarantee their right to quality education and ensure respect for their cultural identity, language and religion.  Those were also necessary for the effective implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education.

Concluding Remarks

NAZHAT SHAMEEM KHAN, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations Office in Geneva, said that in Fiji, the connection between indigenous communities and the land was almost a spiritual one.  For that reason, it was important for governments to engage in participative processes with indigenous communities.  The community had to be comfortable with moving.  

ALBA MARCELA CASTAÑEDA, Under-Secretary for Human Rights of Honduras, noted the importance of the Guiding Principles for the work with internally displaced persons, and said Honduras had prioritized policies to reduce poverty, organised crime, and gang violence.  Using evidence based data was crucial in assessing the scale of displacement and developing recommendations and polices.

MAYA SAHLI FADEL, Member of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, said that root causes for internal displacement were shared worldwide; tackling those causes meant addressing the problem of displacement itself.  African States had made huge strides forward with the Kampala Convention, which was legally binding.  However, solutions such as return and reintegration were hard to implement.  Ms. Fadel noted that the New York Declaration and the two Global Compacts did not reflect the issue of internal displacement, and stressed the need for a global approach in tackling displacement.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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