International Affairs, Peace & Human Security

United Nations Commission on Human Rights
56th Session, March / April 2000
Item (14c) of the Provisional Agenda
Oral intervention submitted on behalf of the Commission of Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches

Specific groups and individuals: Mass exoduses and Displaced Persons

I, Brita Sydhoff, speak on behalf of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, World Council of Churches, Lutheran World Federation and International Catholic Migration Commission.

Mr Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

How can the international community allow the number of internally displaced persons escaping from conflicts to continue to grow at such an alarming rate without ensuring the appropriate response? The 20-25 million persons, most of them women and children, who have been forced to flee their homes, work, schools and communities to seek refuge in another part of their own country are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Some call them the forgotten people.

Some days ago, the Secretary General of the United Nations addressed this Commission, stating that the international community must bridge the gap between the needs and realities. The increasing availability of information on internally displaced persons, not least through the Global IDP Database, shows us the reality and the needs.

The overall UN response to the plight of the masses in flight is however, far too limited, sketchy, sporadic and uncoordinated. Many millions are left to fend for themselves without any help because of international lack of access to the needy or because the UN mechanism is too badly resourced and coordinated to meet this enormous challenge. We welcome the current debate on the mandate for the internally displaced persons within the UN system, as has been proposed by the United States Government.

We hope this revitalized debate will lead to a fresh look at the mandates and capabilities of the Inter Agency Standing Committee, and lead to better coordination among all Humanitarian Agencies at regional and country level. We welcome the Terms of Reference for the Humanitarian/Resident Coordinators in the UN system established by the IASC. We wish to remind the Humanitarian/Resident Coordinators to be inclusive of the NGOs in the coordination efforts. The NGOs in the field often provide the only direct access to many internally displaced persons.

We pay tribute to the important achievements of the Representative of the Secretary General, Dr. Francis Deng. While his post was created with firm support of the international community, his mandate has from the outset had far too few resources. As it stands now, Dr. Deng can only afford to make a few country visits each year. In spite of this, he and his secretariat have always been very transparent and collaborative with the internally displaced themselves where possible and in particular with civil society, notably the NGO community. In order to confirm and enhance the work of Dr. Deng, we urge governments to provide more resources to this important mandate.

One of the most important achievements of Dr. Deng has been the development and subsequent dissemination of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The response to the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement is growing. We request all governments to recognize them. We are many today that translate them and disseminate them to different audiences, not least to governments with populations of internally displaced persons, to non-state actors in conflicts and to the internally displaced populations themselves. The next step, training, is often needed for the understanding of their applicability.

We particularly hope the Representative of the SG will soon have the possibility to visit and discuss the situation with the governments of the following countries:

Burma, with an estimated more than half a million internally displaced persons warrants more pressure on the governments to stop the increasing number of forcibly displaced persons through the systematic programs of forced relocation. The government must be made accountable for its continuous policy of violating human rights and International Humanitarian Law, creating large flows of internally displaced.

Africa has most of the internally displaced populations in the world. In Angola for example, where an internal war has been raging for over 30 years, there is an immediate need for a concerted response to try to bring the fighting to an end. The fighting has produced 1.7 million internally displaced, who along with the civilian population suffer in a country that could have been very rich.

The war in Chechnya, the Russian Federation, has been in focus during the last months. The number of internally displaced is estimated to be hundreds of thousands. We are appalled by the atrocities committed by the government troops against civilians and also by the armed opposition groups. We hope that the Russian government will allow increased access to the IDPs, and guarantee the safety of them and aid workers trying to assist them.

We ask of the Turkish government to respect the rights of the Kurdish people and to seek a political solution to the Kurd issue. We hope that the Turkish government will extend an invitation to the Special Representative in the near future.

We call on the Commission to:
  • Urge all governments to fully adhere to their international obligations to respect human rights and humanitarian law in order to prevent forced displacement.

  • Request all governments to recognize and exercise their primary responsibility to secure protection and assistance to the internally displaced in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

  • Enhance the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for internally displaced persons through the provision of long-term financial support.

  • Welcome increased concerted efforts by the United Nations system to better respond to the protection and assistance needs of IDPs world wide. We also applaud the current debate on the institutional mandates and responsibilities of International Agencies and we hope this will lead to an improved response to the needs of the internally displaced.

International Council of Voluntary Agencies
World Council of Churches
Lutheran World Federation
International Catholic Migration Commission
Norwegian Refugee Council

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