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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Implementation of the Plan of Action for Advancing Prevention, Protection and Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons 2018–2020, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

29 October 2020

Intersessional seminar of the Human Rights Council

Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

29 October 2020

Distinguished President of the Council,
Colleagues, friends,

Greetings to all of you, here in Geneva or from around the world.  I am pleased to be at this Opening Session with the Honourable Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisselberger, Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations Office at Geneva and President of the Human Rights Council, as well as Ms. Federica Mogherini, Co-Chair of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Internal Displacement.

The pandemic is disrupting our usual formats and methods, but it is good to see that all of us can demonstrate our shared commitment to equality, dignity and rights by continuing to work together with agility and creativity. These are qualities that are also key to meeting the challenges of internal displacement.

COVID-19 generates significant new difficulties for internally displaced people, and aggravates those, which they already faced. And yet we have seen States and communities rising to address these challenges head on. For example, the African Union has adopted a coronavirus strategy aimed at supporting national responses to the pandemic that take account of IDP populations, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has issued guidelines on a human rights-compliant COVID-19 responses in the region. Working closely with national government counterparts, the ICRC and national societies have expanded hygiene campaigns, strengthened health facilities, and supported repairs to water and sanitation facilities for IDPs in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Niger, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen and elsewhere. 

Our purpose today is to consider the implementation of the GP20 Plan of Action through a human rights lens; to identify what has worked in efforts to establish durable, human rights-based solutions for internally displaced people over the past three years; and to outline solutions and positive practices to be carried forward into the future.

I want to thank the Permanent Missions of Austria, Uganda, and Honduras for their attention to this key human rights issue, and the Special Rapporteur for her leadership. I am especially pleased that this seminar will feature the expert contributions of internally displaced people themselves.

As it nears its end, the GP20 Plan of Action has helped establish durable solutions for many internally displaced people. But even so, conflict, violence, human rights violations and natural or human-made disasters have driven many more to flee their homes. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre based here in Switzerland has estimated that nearly 15 million people were displaced in more than 120 countries between January and June this year.

In other words, our work to ensure that the rights of internally displaced people are respected, protected and fulfilled is far from over. We can count on the Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Internal Displacement to build on the work done over the past 3 years, and to follow up on the positive practices that will be identified here today.

The Plan of Action is organized around four priorities.

First, upholding the meaningful participation of IDPs means recognising that they are entitled to full respect of their human rights, which their Governments are legally obligated to fulfil. It is internally displaced people themselves who best understand their own needs, and it is they, who should be leading the development and implementation of solutions. The multiple challenges that face many displaced people mean it may take years of interaction with officials to obtain their rights. Participation is not a one-day seminar, it is about empowering IDPs to participate in decisions impacting them. This is particularly the case for those in greater situations of vulnerability – because of their identity, condition, or circumstances – who might otherwise be increasingly marginalised.

A recent study commissioned jointly by the African Union, OHCHR, UNHCR, and UN Women, on the “Status of Women’s Rights in Refugee and Internal Displacement Settings” in Africa, noted how crucial it is for women and girl IDPs to be empowered to participate at every stage of policy and programming. This is consistent with a whole range of studies demonstrating the strong positive correlation between the level of women’s participation in decision-making and the effectiveness of programs, policies and laws that affect them.

The second priority, national laws and policies on internal displacement, are the basis for effective acknowledgment, prevention and response to IDPs' concerns. It is essential that these laws and policies adopt a human rights-based approach, in line with international human rights and humanitarian law and standards – in particular the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

One example of how this works in practise relates to our work in Honduras, where OHCHR is a permanent advisor to the Inter-institutional Commission for the Protection of Persons Displaced by Violence. This government body is leading work on draft legislation regarding internal displacement, and has launched an awareness-raising campaign.

I also want to note the important role of the Human Rights Council, Special Procedures, Treaty Bodies, and national human rights institutions in supporting States to adopt rights-compliant national laws and policies on internal displacement – ensuring that they advance the realization of IDPs' rights.

The third priority area of the Plan of Action, data and analysis, is crucial to recognising the realities of internal displacement – and to ensuring durable solutions. Many instances of internal displacement remain unrecorded, and they may never be acknowledged or responded to, either by Governments or by the international community. The absence or poor quality of data may leave hundreds of thousands of people to fend for themselves, without access to appropriate protection and assistance. OHCHR in Mexico, for example, has highlighted the difficulties in estimating the impact of internal displacement in the country, leading to clear protection gaps for IDPs and others in vulnerable situations. I am delighted to note that in March, the UN Statistical Commission adopted a set of International Recommendations on IDP Statistics (IRIS), which should lead to important progress in gathering comprehensive, consistent, and comparable data on IDPs.  

The fourth and final priority area is the need to comprehensively address situations of protracted displacement. This requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, with strong coordination, advocacy and support from the whole UN system. To establish durable solutions – whether through sustainable local integration, return, or settlement elsewhere – it is especially crucial to recognise the agency of internally displaced people themselves, and to involve local communities and civil society in these decisions.  To facilitate IDPs' agency, they need to have access to civil documentation and to fundamental economic and social rights, including education, health-care and social protection, as well as decent work. Access to justice – including accountability for human rights violations or abuses – is also essential. Durable solutions are only achieved when IDPs can effectively enjoy their human rights without any discrimination on account of their displacement.


Since the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles in 2018, there has been significant progress towards addressing these four priorities, in ways that advance the human rights of internally displaced people. I look forward to hearing more from our panellists about some of the actions that have been taken and how they can be carried forward into the future.

I now give the floor to the President of the Human Rights Council.