Rationale and genesis
The need for international standards for the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs) became apparent in the 1990s when the number of people uprooted within their own countries by armed conflict, ethnic strife and human rights abuses began to soar. When IDP statistics began in 1982, only 1.2 million people were internally displaced in 11 countries. By 1995, there were an estimated 20-25 million IDPs in more than 40 countries, almost twice the number of refugees.
IDPs, like anyone else, benefit from the legal protection of international human rights law and, in situations of armed conflict, international humanitarian law. However, IDPs do not benefit from the specialised protection of international refugee law because they have not crossed an international border. The fact of being displaced from their homes makes IDPs particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses and neglect.
Concern over the vulnerability of IDPs led the UN Commission on Human Rights to ask the Representative on IDPs, Francis Deng, to examine the extent to which existing international law provides adequate coverage for IDPs (1992), and to develop an an appropriate framework for IDPs (1996). Accordingly, the Representative, with the support of a team of international legal experts, formulated the "Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement", which were presented to the Commission in 1998.
Back to top
In line with international human rights and humanitarian law, and with refugee law by analogy, the 30 principles set out the rights and guarantees relevant to the protection of IDPs in all phases of displacement, providing protection against arbitrary displacement; protection and assistance during displacement; and during return or internal resettlement and reintegration.
The principles provide guidance to all relevant actors: the Representative in carrying out his 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 principles establish 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.
The principles reaffirm that "national authorities" have the obligation to ensure that IDPs' basic rights to food, water, shelter, dignity and safety are met. 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, as well as the need to assist the displaced to recover their property and possessions.
Back to top
Response to the Principles
In 2005, the Commission on Human Rights expressed "its appreciation of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement as an important tool for dealing with situations of internal displacement", welcomed "the dissemination, promotion and application of the Guiding Principles" and encouraged "the continued dissemination and promotion of the Guiding Principles".
The UN Security Council noted that "the United Nations agencies, regional and non-governmental organisations, in cooperation with host governments, are making use of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, inter alia, in Africa" (Resolution 1286 (2000) on Burundi)
The UN General Assembly welcomes "the fact that the Representative of the Secretary-General continues to use the Guiding Principles in his dialogue with governments and intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations and other relevant actors, and requests him to continue his efforts to further the dissemination, promotion and application of the Guiding Principles" (Resolution 58/177, 2004)
Inter-governmental agencies, such as UNHCR, UNDP, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNICEF, have incorporated the Guiding Principles into their policies with regard to internal displacement, and have disseminated them among their staff.
UN treaty bodies, which monitor the implementation of UN human rights conventions by state parties, such as the Human Rights Committee or the Committee on the Rights of the Child, have referred to the Guiding Principles in their observations to states.
Regional organisations have made use of the Guiding Principles in their work and have further encouraged their dissemination. References to the Guiding Principles can be found in resolutions, recommendations and reports adopted by the following organisations: African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in the Horn of Africa, the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe.
Angola: the government incorporated the Guiding Principles into its law on resettlement in order to guide IDP returns after the civil war (2000).
Colombia: the Constitutional Court cited the Guiding Principles as a basis for judgments in support of IDPs (2000-2001).
Peru: the Congress adopted a law in 2004 based on the Guiding Principles, establishing material benefits for IDPs.
US: USAID, the US foreign aid agency, issued a policy document to guide its assistance to IDPs, referring to the Guiding Principles as a "framework for response" (2004).
Other governments (Burundi, Colombia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Uganda) have developed national policies based on the principles
Back to top