April 16, 2018
Written by GP20 Campaign partners
The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement set forth 30 principles that outline the rights of internally displaced people (IDPs) and the responsibilities of national governments to protect and assist them. They detail the guarantees relevant to the protection of and assistance to IDPs during displacement until their achievement of durable solutions through return, reintegration or settlement elsewhere in the country. They also cover protections against arbitrary displacement. The Principles emphasise the primary responsibility of national authorities for protecting and assisting all IDPs, regardless of the cause of their displacement.
The need for international standards for the protection of internally displaced people became apparent in the 1990s, when the number of people uprooted within their own countries by an explosion of civil wars and human rights abuses skyrocketed. The UN refugee agency begin compiling data on the number of IDPs in 1993, and by 1995 had estimated 4.2 million people internally displaced worldwide. By 1995, there were an estimated 20 to 25 million IDPs in more than 40 countries, almost twice the number of refugees.
At the time, internal displacement was a subject with neither clear definitions nor a normative framework that could guide governments or humanitarian responders. The 1951 Refugee Convention did not apply to IDPs, and there was and still is no international treaty or convention on internal displacement. The international community began appealing for a document that would define the rights of IDPs and the obligations of governments towards them.
The development of a legal framework for IDPs thus become one of the priorities of the first Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, Francis Deng, following his appointment in 1992. The Guiding Principles, presented by Mr. Deng to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1998, were therefore a milestone in the process of establishing a normative framework for the protection of IDPs.
The Guiding Principles are a compilation and restatement of relevant international human rights and humanitarian law, as well as refugee law by analogy. The principles interpret and tailor these existing norms to the specific situation of internally displaced persons.
Although not a binding legal instrument, the principles have gained considerable authority since their adoption in 1998 and are recognised as the normative departure point for dealing with internal displacement. The UN General Assembly has recognised them as an important international framework for IDP protection and encouraged all relevant actors to use them when confronted with situations of internal displacement. Regional organisations and states have also deemed the principles a useful tool and some have incorporated them into laws and policies.
The 30 Guiding Principles are structured around the phases of displacement.
They address protection against displacement (principles 5 to 9), protection during displacement (principles 10 to 23), the framework for humanitarian assistance (principles 24 to 27) and protection during return, local integration in the locations where the persons have been displaced and resettlement in another part of the country (principles 28 to 30).
The principles provide guidance to all relevant actors: the UN Special Rapporteur in carrying out his or her mandate; states when faced with the phenomenon of internal displacement; all other authorities (including de facto authorities): groups and persons in their relations with IDPs; and inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations.
The Guiding Principles state that IDPs are entitled to enjoy, without discrimination, the same rights and freedoms under international and domestic law as do other persons in their country. The principles established that IDPs must not be discriminated against simply because of their displacement, or because of their race, sex, language, religion, social origin or other similar factors.
The principles restate the right not to be arbitrarily displaced and prohibit displacement on ethnic, religious or racial grounds. In this way they fill some important gaps in IDP protection by explicitly stating what is only implicitly covered by international law.
The principles reaffirm that national authorities have the primary responsibility to ensure that IDPs’ basic rights to food, water, shelter, dignity and safety are met in addition to facilitating their access to all other rights. They should accept the assistance of the international community where they do not have the capacity to provide assistance and protection to IDPs. IDPs have also the right to seek asylum in another country.
In the return phase, the principles emphasise the importance of voluntary and safe return in dignity, as well as the need to assist the displaced to recover their property and possessions.