For debate in the Standing Committee — see Rule 15 of the Rules of Procedure

Doc. 9989

31 October 2003

Internal displacement in Europe

Report

Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population

Rapporteur: Mrs Stoisits, Austria, Socialist Group

Summary

Of the Council of Europe member states, more than ten are faced with the problem of internally displaced populations (IDPs). It is estimated that in 2002 there were approximately 1 million IDPs in Turkey, 570 000 in Azerbaijan, approximately 375 000 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, between 300 000 and 500 000 in the Russian Federation and between 288 000 and 480 000 in Serbia and Montenegro.

Unlike refugees, whose rights are enshrined first and foremost in the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the internally displaced persons as such have no legally binding international instrument to protect and safeguard their fundamental rights.

The Guiding Principles on internal displacement, elaborated by the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons should be widely promoted and disseminated and the Council of Europe member states should be urged to observe them and to incorporate them into their domestic laws.

I.       Draft recommendation

1.       The Parliamentary Assembly is concerned by high numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) resulting from various armed conflicts and human rights abuses which have occurred since the early 1990s in more than ten Council of Europe member states.

2.       The precise number of the internally displaced population is difficult to determine as governments often do not keep any record of internal movements of their own population. However, in 2002, it was estimated at between 3.2 and 3.7 million in Europe. In particular, there were approximately 1 million IDPs in Turkey, 570 000 in Azerbaijan, between 288,000 and 480,000 in Serbia and Montenegro, approximately 375 000 in Bosnia and Herzegovina and between 300 000 and 500 000 in the Russian Federation.

3.       Unfortunately not all the conflicts which have caused internal displacement have been resolved, some of them have been “suspended” and interethnic tension continues to exist; one cannot exclude new flows of internal movements until lasting political solutions are found.

4.       IDPs constitute a specific category of people in need of assistance, protection and development aid which is not always recognized by the governments concerned. Their legal status is not always clear, their specific rights are often ill defined, their fundamental freedoms are sometimes violated and their humanitarian situation is mostly precarious. The issue of internally displaced persons has both humanitarian and human rights dimensions.

5.       IDPs as such, contrary to refugees, protected by the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, are not protected by any international legally binding instrument and their fundamental rights are not safeguarded at international level by any specific instrument. The issue of IDPs is often regarded as an internal matter of the country concerned and attracts much less attention from the international community than the issue of refugees.

6.       Although existing international legal instruments afford a wide measure of protection for displaced persons, there are, however, significant gaps when it comes to meeting their specific protection and assistance needs. They exist in a number of areas including legal, social, economic and political rights, access to health care, arbitrary detention, discrimination and others.

7.       Moreover, the Assembly deplores the fact that the governments concerned sometimes refuse to recognize a problem of displacement existing within their borders. It is essential to recognize the vulnerability and the specific needs of displaced persons and their right to be protected, assisted and to receive development aid and to undertake necessary measures to ease their hardship.

8.       Furthermore, even in cases where a national normative framework concerning displaced persons has been developed, the legislation enacted and in force tends not to be implemented properly. For example, the tax benefits and basic social services like free access to health and education are not applied to displaced persons in practice in some countries.

9.       Although the primary responsibility for protecting IDPs no doubt lies with the governments and local authorities concerned, the international community, and in particular the Council of Europe, has an important role to play in this respect.

10.       The Assembly welcomes the engagement of the Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons as well as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Internal Displacement Unit in responding to the specific needs of the internally displaced.

11.       The Assembly expresses its appreciation on the decisive role the Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons played in the development of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which constitute a standard for governments and other responsible authorities, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations. At the same time, they are an important tool in their work for displaced persons.

12.       The principles should be widely promoted and disseminated and the Council of Europe member states should be urged to observe them and to incorporate them into their domestic laws.

13.       The Assembly notes with satisfaction that many national authorities have introduced socio-economic programmes to rebuild and develop war-torn regions with a view to facilitating the return of displaced persons. The support of the international community is essential for these schemes to succeed.

14.       The Parliamentary Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i.       instruct the appropriate committee to examine the situation of displaced populations in member countries concerned with a particular attention to the compliance of national legislation in force with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement;

ii.       contribute to the promotion of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement at the European level;

iii.       support the establishment of a worldwide information system on internally displaced persons.

15.       The Assembly also recommends that the Committee of Ministers urge its member states concerned, and in particular Turkey, Azerbaijan, Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Russian Federation, Georgia, Cyprus, Armenia, Croatia, Moldova and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” to:

i.       review their legislation with a view to bringing it in line with the Guiding principles on Internal Displacement;

ii.       promote, disseminate and implement the Guiding principles at national, regional and local level;

iii.       ensure that the legislation in force relating to displaced populations is fully implemented, in particular at local level;

iv.       systematically use the Guiding principles as a basis for their present and future policies and programmes in support of internally displaced persons;

v.       fully cooperate, if it is not the case, with the international community, and in particular with the Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons and the OCHA Internal Displacement Unit, with a view to improving the situation of the IDPs by recognizing the problem and removing any possible obstacles hampering humanitarian action like preventing international organizations from access to the areas of displacement, bureaucratic and administrative procedures, lack of security, etc.

II.       Explanatory memorandum by Mrs Terezija Stoisits, Austria, Socialist Group

1.       Introduction

1.       The Parliamentary Assembly and, in particular, the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography are keeping a close watch on the humanitarian situation in the countries and regions of Europe which have experienced crises and armed conflicts over the past ten years, with special attention being given to the situation of internally displaced persons. Following the numerous reports presented by the Committee on this subject, the Assembly has adopted instruments expressing its concern, and made recommendations to governments and the international community. Recent examples include: Recommendation 1588 (2003) on Population displacement in South-Eastern Europe: trends, problems, solutions (Rapporteur: Mrs Ans Zwerver, Doc. 9519 rev.); Recommendation 1569 (2002) on the situation of refugees and displaced persons in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Rapporteur Mr Boriss Cilevičs, Doc. 9479); Recommendation 1570 (2002) on the situation of refugees and displaced persons in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia (Rapporteur Ms Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, Doc. 9480); Recommendation 1510 (2001) on the humanitarian situation of returnees to Kosovo; Recommendation 1406 (1999) on the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes in Croatia; Recommendation 1357 (1998) on Bosnia and Herzegovina: return of refugees and displaced persons; and others.

2.       The humanitarian situation of displaced persons also comes under scrutiny when applications are considered from countries wishing to join the Council of Europe. The opinions adopted reflect the expectations of the Assembly and the Council of Europe in this area and the relevant commitments entered into by the applicant countries at the time of accession.

3.       This issue is also among the points examined during the procedure of monitoring of compliance with the obligations and commitments entered into by Council of Europe member states on accession. In response to the reports prepared by the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly has adopted a number of texts in which the situation of the internally displaced is often mentioned as an area of concern.

4.       The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography is aware that, even though consideration has been given during the work done to the situation of the internally displaced, the problems experienced by this group tend to be dealt with alongside those of refugees, as is often the case, in action undertaken by the international community. The fact is, however, that internally displaced persons have their own particular problems and difficulties, which are not always the same as those experienced by refugees, and their situation calls for special attention.

5.       The present report stems from a motion for a recommendation tabled by Mr Iwiński and others (Doc. 9247) after the seminar on internal displacement in European countries held by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography in September 2001 in Geneva. It is intended to provide an overview of internal displacement – without examining the situation in the various Council of Europe member states, which the Committee does in other Committee reports – and to alert governments and international organisations to the serious humanitarian problems facing internally displaced persons, whose situation has been described as alarming by the UN Commission on Human Rights.

2.       Overview of internal displacement in Europe

6.       The internally displaced are persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of, or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognised State border1.

7.       The two features which distinguish displaced persons, as established by this definition in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement drawn up by the United Nations (UN) (cf. infra), are thus the enforced or obligatory nature of their displacement and the fact that this displacement occurs within their own country. Since the first characteristic can also be said to apply to refugees, it is the fact of not crossing the state border that chiefly distinguishes the internally displaced, and explains why internally displaced persons are sometimes referred to as internal refugees.

8.       There has been no precise clarification of the concept of “internally displaced persons”. According to some institutions, the displaced are a specific category in a humanitarian situation, comparable to that of refugees. Others disagree: displaced persons, it is argued, have less need of protection and assistance than refugees, especially when they live among or near other groups which have not been displaced but which nevertheless also live in poverty and hardship. A specific problem arises at this point: the case of displaced persons living in an urban environment, where they do not live apart, but intermingle with other people who have drifted to the city from the land.

9.       The precise number of internally displaced is difficult to determine, as such persons are not always automatically registered, and changes in their circumstances are not always recorded straightaway. Sometimes, too, there can be discrepancies between government statistics and those produced by international sources. According to the most recent data, however, in 2002 there were at least 25 million displaced persons in 47 countries around the world2. By way of comparison, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has put the current number of refugees worldwide at 12 million. These figures, together with the serious problems encountered by displaced persons, give us sound reason to suppose that the world is experiencing a full-scale humanitarian crisis, and that the plight of internally displaced persons has become one of the most pressing humanitarian issues in recent years.

10.       As a result of armed conflicts and human rights abuses in various parts of our continent over the past ten years, mass population movements have occurred in Europe, the biggest since the end of the second world war. Some of the refugees and displaced persons returned home after the hostilities had ended, but there are still between 3.2 and 3.7 million internally displaced persons in Europe today.

11.       Of the Council of Europe member states, more than ten have internally displaced populations. Although the statistics supplied by national authorities and international sources3 do not always tally, it is estimated that in 2002 there were between 400,000 and 1 million internally displaced persons in Turkey (2 million according to some NGOs); 570,000 in Azerbaijan; between 410,000 and 520,000 in Bosnia and Herzegovina; between 300,000 and 500,000 in the Russian Federation; between 288,000 and 480,000 in Serbia and Montenegro; between 267,000 and 278,000 in Georgia; between 210,000 and 265,000 in Cyprus; 50,000 to 72,000 in Armenia; 22,000 to 34,000 in Croatia; 10,000 in Moldova and between 7,500 and 20,000 in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.

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12.       The reasons which prompted these millions of people to take to the road are well documented. Internal displacement in Europe is chiefly the result of processes, crises and conflicts with a strong ethnic element which have occurred in the past ten years following the break-up of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. The new types of intra-state (as opposed to inter-state) conflict which emerged in the early 1990s, sometimes in the form of civil war, have been marked by widespread human rights abuses and aspirations to ethnic purity, with the result that most refugees, like most internally displaced persons, are members of national minorities.

13.       Some of these conflicts seem to have been resolved, following the intervention of the international community; others have been “suspended”. We ought not to be under any illusion, though: as long as interethnic tension continues to exist (as it does in a number of regions), until national minorities feel they can live in complete safety, with full respect for their rights, until the countries which have suffered these terrible conflicts become stable, peaceful, prosperous democracies, in short, until lasting political solutions are found, any long-term solution to the problems of displaced persons will be difficult to deliver.

14.       Like refugees, the internally displaced need protection, assistance and development aid. Unlike refugees, however, whose rights are enshrined first and foremost in the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees, they have no legally binding international instrument to protect and safeguard their fundamental rights. This gap in international law is something to be deplored, as displaced persons often have unclear legal status, their rights are ill defined, their fundamental freedoms are violated and their humanitarian situation is extremely precarious. The issue of displaced persons is often regarded purely as an internal matter for the state concerned and attracts less attention from the international community than the issue of refugees. Displaced persons have “made a mistake”, as it were, by not crossing the border, an act that would have enabled them to claim refugee status or temporary protection.

15.       There is no question that the primary responsibility for protecting displaced persons lies with governments and local authorities, but the international community also has a part to play in improving protection for displaced persons. International debate and initiatives abound in this area (cf. infra), but the international community needs to become more explicitly aware of the seriousness of the problem and to act accordingly.

16.       The situation in the different Council of Europe member states which have displaced populations is not identical, even though they may have some features in common. The number of displaced persons and the overall situation in the countries differ. Finding a realistic solution to the problem of displaced persons naturally depends on these factors, but it also depends on how governments handle the matter. In some cases, the authorities have severe economic problems and are unable to meet internally displaced persons’ need for protection and assistance, even though they would like to. In other cases, governments lack the necessary political will to protect and help displaced persons, prompting the latter to look instead to the international community. In some countries, a key feature of protection and assistance for displaced persons would appear to be support based on ethnic considerations, with the displaced persons and the majority of the population and national leaders all belonging to the same ethnic group. Sometimes, despite expressions of support for displaced persons, the quest for a lasting solution to their problems takes second place to long-term political objectives, making any such solution difficult to deliver.

17.       Whatever the case, though, displaced persons invariably encounter serious problems relating to housing, food and health care: they live in conditions of hardship, deprivation and discrimination, seeking refuge in railway carriages, dilapidated buildings and communal shelters without proper hygiene facilities. Often they are taken in by friends and relatives but, without material support from the state owing to economic problems and poverty, hospitality can sometimes give way to resentment or even hostility towards the individuals concerned.

18.       Special consideration should be given to the fact that many displaced persons are women and children, widows and unaccompanied minors, who experience even more severe problems and who have specific protection and assistance needs. Health and education problems are common in this context.

3.       Legal framework applicable to internal displacement

19.       As has already been mentioned, there is no legally binding international instrument that would protect internally displaced persons and safeguard their fundamental rights like the one from which refugees benefit. Within the framework of the UN, however, a normative framework has been created to provide governments and other responsible authorities, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations with practical guidance on dealing with displaced persons, notably the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

20.       In effect, the Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on Internally Displaced Persons4, appointed in 1992 on a proposal from the UN Commission on Human Rights, was asked to examine existing international rules and regulations on displaced persons and to draw up an appropriate normative framework. The Secretary-General’s Representative accordingly prepared a 2-part study, consisting of a compilation and an analysis of existing international norms applicable to internally displaced persons5.

21.       In the course of this detailed study, the Representative took a close look at all the norms of international law relating to human rights, of international humanitarian law and of refugee law applicable to internally displaced persons. The conclusion reached was that, although existing international legal instruments afforded a wide measure of protection for displaced persons (the application of which needed to be more effective, however), there were nevertheless significant gaps when it came to meeting the specific protection and assistance needs of displaced persons. These existed in a number of areas, such as: discrimination, the right to life, violence against women, arbitrary detention, forcible recruitment, means of subsistence, access to health care, freedom of movement, the right to family reunification, access to employment and education, the right of association, the right to participate in public affairs, access to international humanitarian assistance and the right to restoration of property.

22.       On the basis of these conclusions, a new document was drawn up by the Secretary-General’s Representative, the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1998. The purpose of these principles is not to create a new international law but to identify, reaffirm and consolidate existing norms, which are regarded as being too diffused and unfocused to provide effective protection and assistance for the internally displaced (for an analysis of the Guiding Principles cf. infra, chapter 5).

23.       Several UN organs have likewise given attention to internal displacement, either adopting texts specifically dedicated to this subject or, more commonly, by addressing the issue indirectly in documents which are primarily concerned with other topics. They include the Security Council, the General Assembly (resolutions on protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons, ref. 56/164, 20 February 2002; 54/167, 25 February 2000; 52/130, 26 February 1998, etc), the Commission on Human Rights (Internally displaced persons: resolutions E/CN.4/RES/2002/56; 2001/54; 2000/53; 1999/47; 1998/50, etc), the Economic and Social Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Development Programme, UNESCO, etc.

24.       Through ongoing dialogue with governments and all the intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations concerned, the Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons studies the causes of internal displacement, the needs of the persons concerned, preventive measures and ways of providing such persons with protection and assistance.

25.       Significant differences can be observed between the way in which the international community views and handles refugees and displaced persons, even though the problems are similar and the individuals concerned are in the same, or almost the same, situation. Because there is no organisation specifically tasked with overseeing arrangements for the internally displaced, their needs tend to be addressed rather unevenly. In some cases, the needs of displaced persons are more or less met, while in others, they are largely or completely ignored. Even in large-scale humanitarian operations conducted by the international community, displaced persons seldom receive the attention they deserve.

26.       Consequently, in 2000, the United Nations Inter Agency Standing Committee established a Senior Inter-Agency Network on Internal Displacement, comprising senior focal points in all concerned organizations.

27.       As a consequence of a further need for the provision of expertise, advice and direction of humanitarian agencies in their common efforts to establish a coherent and predictable IDP framework along the collaborative approach an Internal Displacement Unit has been set up in January 2002 within the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The Unit aims to promote system-wide improvements in the response to internal displacement, and, provide targeted support to specific country situations.

28.       While the Network acts as an advisory and consultative body on issues of internal displacement, and enhances information-sharing between the Unit on Internal Displacement and the respective agencies, the Unit is undertaking field assistance and country missions, protection and training programmes, as well as advocacy and public information activities.

29.       The international response to internal displacement mainly takes the form of humanitarian aid, provided by any of the many international humanitarian organisations. Often, however, humanitarian action is hampered by various obstacles, which partly account for organisations’ reluctance to get involved. Notable examples of these obstacles include governments’ refusal to recognise the problems or to allow visits by international organisations; bureaucratic and administrative procedures which make it difficult for the humanitarian effort to proceed; lack of security; lack of practice in dealing with the victims of armed conflicts; limited resources; and the fact that, in very many cases, displaced persons do not identify themselves as such, but live anonymously, scattered across different communities.

30.       In Europe, regional organisations take a particularly active part in seeking solutions to the problems of displaced persons. The European Union plays a political role in the efforts to avert conflicts that might trigger internal displacement; it also plays a major role as a provider of humanitarian assistance for displaced persons. The plans to set up a rapid reaction force to deal with regional and international crises will also have an impact on the protection afforded to displaced persons. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has addressed this issue on several occasions (the conference on migration in the Commonwealth of Independent States, 1998; the special meeting on migration and internal displacement, September 2000, etc). It has been decided to include internal displacement in the work of the OSCE and to use the Guiding Principles as a framework for these activities, inter alia during OSCE field missions. Internal displacement is also among the subjects receiving attention from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly, as we have already mentioned, have long taken an interest in the issue of displaced persons, usually in tandem with the issue of refugees. The intergovernmental co-operation sector comprises bodies which focus on population and migration. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has decided to look at the issue of displaced persons, an issue examined in several follow-up reports to the Commissioner’s country visits, eg to the Russian Federation (Chechnya) and the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Kosovo). A recommendation of the Commissioner on the problems of internally displaced persons is currently being drafted.

31.       A normative framework on internal displacement has gradually been established at national level as well, in most countries where the issue arises. Here again, though, the problems of displaced persons have tended to be addressed in conjunction with those of refugees. Most of the legislation enacted thus concerns both the status of refugees and that of displaced persons, examples being the laws adopted in Azerbaijan (1992 and 1999), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1999 and 2000) and Croatia. Aspects relating to the problems of displaced persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina were also dealt with in Annex 7 of the Dayton Peace Agreement, while the national framework for returns adopted at the level of the entities and the State was designed to ensure implementation of the agreement.

32.       Specific legislation on the internally displaced has been introduced in some countries, according to the particular circumstances: a special law on the social protection of displaced persons was adopted in Azerbaijan in 1999; a law on forcibly displaced persons was adopted in Georgia in 1996, and the law currently in force in the Russian Federation, amended in 1995, specifically concerns displaced persons, defined as “forced migrants”.

33.       In some cases, unjustified and discriminatory distinctions are made in national law with regard to refugees and displaced persons. The Croatian law on the status of displaced persons and refugees, for example, introduced one status for “prognanici” (expelled persons driven from their homes, mainly ethnic Croatians), who enjoyed more favourable conditions of return, and another for “raseljene osobe” (other internally displaced persons, mainly ethnic Serbs). After being found to be discriminatory, the provision was repealed in November 1999, but several international observers noted that it was still applied in practice. Following the political changes in Croatia in early 2000, some improvements can be observed in the country.

34.       It has to be said that, even in cases where a national normative framework has been developed, the legislation enacted and in force tends not to be implemented properly. For example, the tax benefits and favourable welfare arrangements provided for by law in some countries are not always recognised and applied in practice, with the result that displaced persons find themselves having to pay for services which, they ought to receive free, such as health care and education.

35.       Several bodies and agencies responsible for implementing these laws have been set up in countries which have to deal with refugees and displaced persons, although once again there is a tendency to pair the two: Department for Refugees and Migration (in Armenia), State Committee for Refugees and Displaced Persons (in Azerbaijan), Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees (in Bosnia and Herzegovina), Directorate for Displaced Persons, Returnees and Refugees (in Croatia), etc. Turkey now has parliamentary committees which, in 1994 and 1997, filed reports on internal displacement in the country. The situation of displaced persons is expected to improve in Turkey, moreover, following the constitutional and legislative amendments introduced in August 2002. It should be noted, though, that whichever agency is responsible for handling displaced persons – ministry, committee or department – efficiency tends to be poor, and the administrative complexities and bureaucracy encountered by displaced persons are as much a matter of lack of administrative capacity as they are of lack of will.

36.       Alongside legislative measures, many national authorities have also introduced socio-economic programmes to rebuild and develop war-torn regions and facilitate the return of displaced persons. Examples are to be found in Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Russia, Turkey, Serbia and Montenegro, etc. The support of the international community is essential, however, if these schemes are to succeed.

4.       Main problems facing displaced persons

37.       The issue of displaced persons has both a human rights and a humanitarian dimension. Practices such as the enforced displacement of populations, in particular “ethnic cleansing” and forcible resettlement, interfere with the ability of large sections of the population to exercise their fundamental human rights. Displaced persons, whose rights are not always adequately secured, often find themselves in an extremely precarious situation. They are exposed to physical and psychological dangers and have difficulty meeting even their most basic needs. Translating normative and institutional responses into effective strategies on the ground so as to meet the protection and assistance needs of displaced persons therefore remains an urgent task.

38.       One of the biggest problems encountered by the internally displaced during what is often a deeply traumatic experience is that of living conditions, and housing in particular. In many cases, accommodation is arranged privately, with friends or relatives; increasingly, though, economic problems in the local community mean that more and more displaced persons are housed in communal shelters. There are also “unofficial” shelters, where displaced persons receive no help from the authorities and live in conditions of extreme uncertainty.

39.       Living conditions are often unsatisfactory, with overcrowding in shelters or private housing, water supply, health care and poor diet all posing a problem, particularly for children.

40.       When examining the economic and social problems of displaced persons, it is important to situate them in the national and regional context. Often, in the aftermath of conflicts, the social infrastructure is severely damaged and the population as a whole is little better off than those who have been displaced, who have problems relating to welfare and access to health care, high unemployment, meagre, sporadically paid pensions, and lack of money.

41.       Lack of money tends to be the most serious issue that throws displaced persons into a state of total dependency on public support. Often these problems affect the population as a whole, but they tend to be even more severe in the case of displaced persons. Many displaced persons have only limited job opportunities because of the economic climate or, possibly, restrictive government policies, making it difficult for them to get back on their feet and provide for themselves. This economic and social situation, which starts out as temporary but can last for years, often causes psychological problems due to the feelings of hopelessness that it induces.

42.       In case basic needs such as food, medical care or shelter were not provided by the state nor by the international community further protection problems arise where additional income would have to be sought through different channels. Human rights’ and humanitarian rights’ violations such as sexual exploitation or the facilitation of the recruitment of child soldiers are often a consequence.

43.       In cases where there has been armed conflict, security can continue to be a serious problem years after hostilities have ended. In a context of continuing insecurity and discrimination against members of minorities, displaced persons – who often fall into this category - have an even harder time. Worth mentioning here is the case of displaced Roma, who often suffer discrimination, further worsening their plight.

44.       Security problems remain a key factor in the decision on whether to return. All too often, members of minorities are still subjected to intimidation, threats, harassment, aggression, arson and even murder. Thus it is making it difficult for displaced persons to go home. The authorities have a duty to ensure the physical safety and freedom of movement of displaced persons.

45.       The political rights of displaced persons are not always adequately secured – the right to vote and the right to participate in public affairs. Specific problems arise in some countries, the nationality question being one. This creates additional problems for displaced persons wishing to integrate, who are discriminated against in a number of areas – right to vote, right to public-sector employment, fiscal obligations, etc. It is to be hoped that in the new state structure currently being set up, these issues will be resolved in the interest of displaced persons and general social cohesion.

46.       Enforced displacement often has the harmful effect of destroying social and cultural ties and breaking up families, and that being the case, authorities should be urged to facilitate family reunification. Women and children, who often make up a high proportion of displaced persons, experience specific difficulties which call for special attention. Female heads of household should be given help to find jobs, so that they can provide for their children, and proper access to health care, while children and young people should be given every opportunity to receive an education on an equal footing with members of the local population. Free schooling should be provided in the public education systems, something that is not always done at present.

47.       The primary responsibility for finding solutions to the problems facing internally displaced persons unquestionably lies with national authorities. The quest for solutions needs to be conducted on two fronts: a temporary solution is required, in order to meet the most pressing needs of displaced persons, and so is a long-term solution, which might involve enabling displaced persons to return home, become integrated into the local community, or resettle in another part of the country.

48.       A short-term solution, in places where displaced persons have taken up temporary residence involves issues such as temporary housing, food aid, access to employment, education and welfare, including health care, and issues pertaining to social, civil and political rights for the duration of the displacement, etc, ie problems and solutions which are primarily humanitarian in nature. Special programmes for displaced persons therefore need to be developed by governments. One issue that arises in this context is that of temporary limits on displacement, something that is currently being considered by the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons.

49.       A long-term solution (return, local integration or resettlement) very much depends on a stable, lasting solution being found to the conflict which caused the displacement. Today, even though the hostilities have ended, lasting political solutions have yet to be found for some of the conflicts that we have seen in Europe. What is required in these circumstances is an effort by governments to find such a solution, to promote democracy, inter alia through democratic legislation in keeping with international norms on human rights and minorities and on the issue of ownership (restoration of property), and to introduce effective measures to protect the human rights of displaced persons and the rights of national minorities, etc. In short, a lasting solution must come mainly through political action.

50.       The return of displaced persons to their homes inevitably raises a number of issues, not least the nature of the return (it must be voluntary, without discrimination, effected in a safe and dignified manner, with sufficient and accurate information and adequate protection against a forcible return); the right of ownership (displaced persons must be able to recover their property; where this is not possible, a compensation system must be introduced). The issue of property restoration is particularly complex in countries where there has been a succession of large-scale displacements, with the result that refugees and displaced persons have often ended up in housing belonging to other refugees and displaced persons.

51.       Where displaced persons opt for local integration, appropriate strategies need to be introduced by the authorities, with due regard to the needs and interests of the local community. Displaced persons should also be given the freedom to choose another area in which to settle. The grants awarded to assist with return, local integration and resettlement should not be discriminatory, as is sometimes the case, particularly in Kosovo.

52.       As has already been stated, assistance and protection for displaced persons are the responsibility of the government, although internal displacement may also have been triggered by the actions of that same government. A question then arises as to the role of the international community in what is perceived to be an internal matter. The fact is that the displacement of persons has reached such proportions that it has become an international problem. While recognising the principle of national sovereignty and the recent improvement in attitudes in some countries, international and regional organisations, including the Council of Europe, cannot stand idly by. The problem of internal displacement calls for a more co-ordinated response on the part of the international community.

53.       The displaced persons debate is a sensitive issue with implications for national sovereignty. Sovereignty, however, must not be allowed to stand in the way of international support for persons in need.

54.       Internal displacement is usually perceived as a humanitarian crisis and, to a lesser extent, as a human rights issue. In a number of instances, however, it would appear to result from a fundamental national identity crisis which creates political, social, cultural and religious divides within a country, and which determines or influences the decision as to which displaced persons are to be protected and helped and which ignored, if not actually persecuted.

5.       Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

55.       In 1992, in response to growing international concern about the large number of internally displaced persons throughout the world and their need for protection and assistance, the Commission on Human Rights requested the UN Secretary-General to appoint a representative to look into the question of displaced persons (Commission resolution 1992/73). The Secretary-General appointed Francis M. Deng (Sudan).

56.       The Representative carried out a comprehensive study in which he identified the existing legislative provisions and machinery for protecting displaced persons (cf. supra, chapter 2). The Representative was asked to continue exploring the causes of displacement, through dialogue with governments and intergovernmental, regional and non-governmental organisations, and with due regard to the particular features of the different situations, to identify the needs of displaced persons, to consider what preventive measures might be taken and what means could be employed to better ensure their protection, to provide them with increased assistance and to offer a wider range of solutions. Through the Project on Internal Displacement run by the Brookings Institution and City University of New York (CUNY), of which the Representative is a co-director, research into various aspects of displacement is continuing, not only to build on the work already done but also in order to raise awareness of the issue.

57.       The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2), which are a compilation of the numerous provisions on the protection of, and assistance for, displaced persons, were presented to the Commission on Human Rights in 1998. These principles, which are derived from the norms of international law on human rights, international humanitarian law and, by analogy, refugee law, set out the rights and guarantees relevant to the protection of internally displaced persons during all the phases of displacement, providing protection against arbitrary displacement and protection and assistance during displacement and during return or resettlement and reintegration. The Guiding Principles are designed to address the specific needs of displaced persons worldwide.

58.       The Guiding Principles cover the three phases of internal displacement: the period leading up to displacement, the situation during displacement and the final phase – return or local integration. In the introduction to the Guiding Principles, internally displaced persons are defined as “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border” (§ 2). The two defining features of displaced persons are thus the enforced or obligatory nature of their displacement and the fact that this displacement occurs within the borders of the state concerned.

59.       In Section I, General principles (Principles 1-4), it is stated that these principles are to be observed by all authorities, groups and persons without distinction (Principle 2), but that national authorities have the primary duty to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons within their jurisdiction (Principle 3).

60.       In Section II, Principles relating to protection from displacement (Principles 5-9), Principle 6 is particularly important, in that it expressly recognises the right of every human being to be protected against arbitrary displacement. Arbitrary displacement is defined as, for examples displacement which is based on policies of apartheid, ethnic cleansing or similar practices aimed at altering the ethnic, religious or racial composition of the affected population; that which results from armed conflicts or unjustified development projects; or displacement used as a collective punishment.

61.       Section III (Principles 10-23) determines the principles governing the protection of displaced persons during displacement. While reaffirming the fundamental rights of displaced persons (in particular, the right to life, the right to dignity and physical, mental and moral integrity; the right to liberty and security; the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose their residence, etc) and the protection arising therefrom (in particular protection against genocide, murder, summary executions, abduction, unacknowledged detention, attacks or other acts of violence, etc), Section III also articulates specific principles relating to protection during displacement. Accordingly, displaced persons have the right to seek safety in another part of the country, the right to leave their country, the right to seek asylum in another country, and the right to be protected against forcible return to or resettlement in any place where their life, safety, liberty and/or health would be at risk (Principle 15). Also recognised are the right to an adequate standard of living – food, basic shelter and housing, medical services (Principle 18), the right not to be deprived of property and possessions (Principle 21) and the right to education (Principle 23), rights the exercise of which is often difficult to secure in practice.

62.       The principles relating to humanitarian assistance (Section IV, Principles 24-27) reaffirm that the primary duty and responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons lies with national authorities. International humanitarian organisations have the right to offer their services in support of the internally displaced, and any such offer should not be regarded as an unfriendly act or as interference in a state’s internal affairs. The document stresses that consent for these services should not be arbitrarily withheld, particularly when the authorities concerned are unable or unwilling to provide the required humanitarian assistance (Principle 25). National authorities have a duty to protect persons engaged in humanitarian assistance and their supplies, and to grant these persons unimpeded access to the internally displaced (Principle 26).

63.       The final part of the document (Section V, Principles 28-30) concerns the third phase of displacement, ie return, resettlement and reintegration. Principle 28 is important in that it spells out the competent authorities duty to establish conditions which allow internally displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity. The document emphasises the right of displaced persons to return to their place of habitual residence or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country, without being subjected to any discrimination as a result of their having been displaced, either in terms of their participation in public affairs or in terms of their right to recover their property and possessions (Principle 29). The authorities’ responsibility to help displaced persons to exercise these rights is reiterated.

64.       The Guiding Principles are based on three basic concepts, in particular:

–       although internally displaced persons have been forced to leave their homes, they have not left the country of which they are normally nationals, and this distinguishes them from refugees;

–       the situation of internally displaced persons is quite specific, and they have specific needs;

–       there is a need to reiterate and give prominence to the statutory provisions concerning the specific needs of displaced persons and to make them easier to implement in a situation of internal displacement.

65.       The Guiding Principles are neither a declaration on the rights of displaced persons nor a new legal instrument. They have not been officially adopted. They do, however, identify and provide a detailed compilation of existing legal provisions that address the specific needs of displaced persons, and call for efforts to be made to facilitate their implementation. The Guiding Principles are purely a normative framework on the situation of displaced persons; they need to be supported, promoted and implemented.

66.       When the Guiding Principles were drafted, a question arose as to the international community’s responsibility vis-à-vis internal displacement – should responsibility be assigned to an existing agency, should a new agency be set up, or might it be better to adopt an approach based on inter-agency co-operation and collaboration? The Inter-Agency Standing Committee reiterated its preference for this last option, while recognising that improvements still needed to be made if the protection and assistance needs of displaced persons were to be addressed effectively. The Committee also recognised that it was important to clarify everyone’s responsibilities, to prepare comprehensive strategies tailored to each country and to build up capacity, particularly in the field of protection. The Senior Inter-Agency Network on Internal Displacement was accordingly set up in September 2000.

67.       The Guiding Principles have been welcomed by a number of international bodies, mainly within the UN system, but also by the OSCE, the EU, etc. An explicit declaration by the Council of Europe expressing its support for the principles would be appropriate at this point.

68.       At national level, the Guiding Principles have been warmly received by several countries, including some Council of Europe member states, particularly in the Southern Caucasus. Representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have attended seminars and used the Guiding Principles as a basis for their dialogue with the Secretary-General’s Representative. The Guiding Principles have been translated into national languages, and some governments have pledged to bring their national legislation into line with them. These intentions deserve support, and other governments should follow suit.

59.       Since they were presented in 1998, the Guiding Principles have received international recognition and are increasingly applied in practice. More and more governments and international, regional and non-governmental organisations are using the Guiding Principles as a basis for their policies and programmes in support of displaced persons. There are many reasons for this: the Guiding Principles fill a gap by establishing a framework that guides activities relating to the rights of displaced persons and the obligations of the authorities; a wide consultation process took place when the document was drawn up.

70.       Major efforts to promote, disseminate and implement the Guiding Principles are being made at national, regional and international level by governments, national and international NGOs and intergovernmental organisations. These efforts need to be sustained.

6.       Conclusions and recommendations

71.       The number of internally displaced persons, both worldwide and in Europe, who lack adequate support and protection is alarmingly high. This creates a serious problem for the international community.

72.       The issue of internally displaced persons has an effect on human rights and a humanitarian dimension as well. Individual countries, the international community and international organisations, including the Council of Europe and its member states, therefore have a responsibility to explore possible ways and means of providing a better response to the protection and assistance needs of displaced persons.

73.       The international community is increasingly aware of the global scale of internal displacement and of the urgent need to tackle the root causes of the problem and to find lasting solutions, in particular voluntary return, in safety and with dignity, local integration or resettlement.

74.       National authorities have the primary duty to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons within their jurisdiction and to tackle the root causes of this problem. In many cases national authorities are not able or willing to follow their duties.

75.       Hence, it is essential for the International Community to recognise the vulnerability and the specific needs of displaced persons, and, by the same token, their right to be protected, assisted and reintegrated and to receive development aid and to take action if need be. The governments of Council of Europe member states should provide protection and assistance to the internally displaced, inter alia for the purpose of reintegration and development, and facilitate any action taken along these lines by the responsible agencies.

76.       The protection afforded to internally displaced persons has been enhanced because the specific norms which are pertinent have been identified, reaffirmed and consolidated, most notably in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. These principles should be widely promoted and disseminated, and Council of Europe member states should be urged to observe them and to incorporate them into their domestic law.

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Reporting Committee: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population.

Reference to committee: Doc. 9247, Ref. No. 2664 on 8.11.2001.

Draft recommendation unanimously adopted by the Committee on 26 September 2003.

Members of the Committee: Iwiński (Chairperson), Einarsson (1st Vice-Chairperson), Bušić (2nd Vice-Chairperson), de Zulueta (3rd Vice-Chairperson), Akgün, Akhvlediani, Alibeyli, Arabadjiev, de Arístegui, Arzilli, Bernik, Van den Brande, Branger (alternate: Jacquat), Braun (alternate: Tabajdi), Brînzan, Brunhart, Cabrnoch, Çavusoğlu, Christodoulides, Cilevičs, Çörüz, Dačič, Danieli, Debarge (alternate: Salles), Debono Grech, Dmitrijevas, Dokle, Donabauer (alternate: Himmer), Dubié, Err, Filipiová, Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, Frimannsdóttir, Grzesik, Grzyb, Gülçiçek, Hagberg, Hancock, Higgins, Hoffmann,. Ilaşcu, Jovašević, Lord Judd, Karpov, Kósá-Kovács, Koulouris, Kulikov, Kvakkestad, Le Guen, Liapis (alternate: Kanelli), Loutfi (alternate: Kirilov), Matviychuk, Nabholz-Haidegger, Naro, Nasufi, Nessa, Olin, Popa, Prijmireanu, Puche, Raguž, Rakhansky, Reymann, Saks, Shakhtakhtinskaya, Slutsky (alternate: Fedorov), Soendergaard, Stoisits, Stübgen, Tekelioğlu, Tkáč, Torosyan, Vera Jardim, Vermot-Mangold, Vieira, Wilkinson, Wray, Yáñez-Barnuevo, Zavgayev (alternate: Tulaev), Zhirinovsky (alternate: Gamzatova), Zwerver.

N.B. The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretariat of the committee: Mr Lervik, Mrs Nachilo, Mrs Sirtori-Milner, Mrs Entzminger


1 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement; E/CN.4/1998/53/ Add.2; Introduction, § 2.

2 Norwegian Refugee Council, Database, www.idpproject.org

3 Reports of the Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on Displaced Persons; Norwegian Refugee Council; US Committee for Refugees.

4 Mr Francis M. Deng, Sudan

5 Compilation and Analysis of Legal Norms; E/CN.4/1996/52/Add.2; E/CN.4/1998/53/Add. 1