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Internally displaced persons

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What is at stake?

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are persons who have been obliged to flee or leave their homes or places of habitual residence in particular, among other reasons, due to conflict and generalised violence, and who have not crossed an internationally recognised state border . Over the last decade, conflicts and violence in the wider Europe have led to large-scale internal displacement. In 2018, PACE reported that there are more than four million people displaced in Europe within their own country – almost twice as much as in 2014. 

In Europe and beyond, IDPs continue to face serious infringements of their human rights, including the right to be protected from physical violence, access to public services, assistance, community integration, education, right to vote, and to social security. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that many IDPs in Europe are “feeling like they are spending their lives ‘in transit’”, highlighting that many lack basic resources and live in situations of severe poverty. 

What Role for NHRIs? 

Key Elements of Consideration for NHRIs’ Role 

In Europe, a number of NHRIs have played a key role in the promotion and protection of the human rights of IDPs. While the topic is not new to some NHRIs, other situations as in Ukraine, Georgia and earlier in time Bosnia and Herzegovina have required NHRIs to put in place urgent systems to deal with occurrences of large-scale internal displacement.

IDPs as a group to protect. IDPs are a group at risk in (post) conflict situations. They often face multiple and cross-cutting human rights violations and discrimination when they belong to other groups such as persons with disabilities, children, older persons, ethnic, linguistic, religious and national minorities, LGBTI and women and girls. Internally displaced women and girls are exposed to a heightened risk of sexual and gender-based violence, and careful attention should be paid to their protection in this area. 

IDPs also have specific health needs that are often neglected, and lack economic opportunities which places them in an extremely vulnerable situation. NHRIs can monitor closely the occurrences of human rights violations against IDPs and their intersectional character with disaggregated data and report on the situation to end discriminatory and other harmful practices. This can be done through designating a staff member or a unit dedicated to following IDPs’ issues in the NHRI. 

Durable solutions. IDPs need to be able to resume their lives following displacement by either reintegrating in their place of origin (‘return’), or integrating sustainably in the place where they took refuge or another part of the country (‘resettlement’). Durable solutions for IDPs are achieved when “internally displaced persons no longer have any specific assistance and protection needs that are linked to their displacement and can enjoy their human rights without discrimination on account of their displacement”. This is critical as any other short and medium-term option includes the risk of multiplied human rights violations, and lack of access of IDPs to basic services. IDPs should be in a position to make a voluntary and informed choice as to which durable solutions they would like to pursue. NHRIs support IDPs in achieving durable solutions through advice on legal frameworks; engagement with communities and legal advice.

Participation of IDPs. Individuals’ participation in decisions impacting on them is a core component of a human rights based approach. IDPs should be at the centre of all decision-making processes affecting them at the local, national and international levels. This includes access to their rights decisions to achieve durable solutions, programmes and policies impacting on their lives, and the right to vote at elections, ,. Participation should be across all stages of decisions, from the design to the implementation phase.  NHRIs should integrate IDP participation in their mechanisms and advocate for their participation elsewhere. The participation of women IDPs is extremely important to ensure that their needs are taken into account, and that they can contribute to peacebuilding efforts affecting them.

Addressing past violations. In conflict contexts, forced internal displacement is a violation of human rights in itself, and also contributes to further human rights violations after displacement. Failing to address these issues can lead to further tensions and renewed conflicts. NHRIs can consider recommending or taking part in reconciliation initiatives; roundtables; dialogues; mediation and land restitution programmes. In each such case, they should underline human rights standards and principles, and ensure an independent and objective approach.

The 2030 agenda is key to ensuring IDPs’ human rights and the realisation of durable solutions for them. Beyond SDG 16 looking to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, including IDPs, the other SDGs are also relevant to IDPs’ situations. Poverty, hunger and food insecurity, addressed by SDGs 1 and 2, often result from displacement, or are aggravated by it. SDGs 3 and 4 dedicated to health care and education often lack for IDPs, as well as access to employment and decent work addressed by SDG 8. IDPs often face multiple discriminations, which SDG 10 tends to redress. Housing issues faced by IDPs are also covered by SDG 11, including as an increased number of IDPs reside in urban areas. The connections between climate, conflicts, and internal displacement can also be addressed though SDG 13 on climate change.


NHRI Functions

Advisory functions

The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement set out international human rights and humanitarian standards applicable to IDPs. This includes a broad range of obligations states must comply with during displacement, return, and resettlement or reintegration. NHRIs should monitor that their state’s practice and legislation is in line with the Guiding Principles and other applicable regional and international standards, and recommend their integration into national laws. In the European context, the ECHR and its Protocols, as well as commitments made under the OSCE, can provide further grounds for protection for IDPs.  

Experiences from Europe 

National legal provisions specific to IDPs are often lacking in cases of sudden displacement. A first step for NHRIs can be to advise state bodies on how to create a comprehensive framework on IDPs’ human rights. Particular attention should be put on the definition of IDPs in national legislation, as definitions given in national laws often tends to exclude certain groups or categories. IDPs can be particularly impacted by states’ derogations to international human rights standards when declaring emergency measures. NHRIs can monitor human rights violations happening in those contexts and provide advice against disproportionate derogations.

The PDO played a key role in enhancing the legal framework applied to IDPs. Before the adoption of the newest legal framework on IDPs, the PDO has regularly advised that the legal provisions relating to IDPs be reformed. Most of the PDO’s recommendations were adopted in the latest legislation on IDPs adopted in 2014, including on the definition of IDP, the protection of under-aged IDPs and allowances. The PDO has fed into the preparations of the draft law through multiple meetings with state and other actors. Before the adoption of the law, the NHRI has organised a concluding meeting with those actors to review in depth the latest proposal, and produce the final version of the law.

– Georgian NHRI – Public Defender (Ombudsman) of Georgia (PDO)

The NHRI has advised repetitively for the alignment of national legislation with the Dayton Peace Agreement, including provisions dedicated to refugees and IDPs. The NHRI has established a transitional justice unit, which includes work related to IDPs. The prevention of stigmatisation of victims of sexual violence, including for IDPs, as also been at the centre of the work of the NHRI.

– Bosnia and Herzegovina NHRI: Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Human rights monitoring and reporting 

Monitoring the human rights of IDPs includes the monitoring of legal, administrative and policy frameworks which impact on the human rights of IDPs, as well as their implementation. It is also essential to gather and verify key information on the human rights situation of IDPs, as data on internal displacement is often absent or lacks appropriate triangulation and disaggregation. The role of NHRIs includes on-site inspection of public and private institutions, including IDP camps and resettlement communities and houses, as well as places where the risk of human rights violations towards IDPs may be high, such detention facilities.  

The NHRIs findings are fed into reports to national authorities (annual and thematic reports) and international bodies. In times of heightened movements of internal displacement, NHRIs can produce urgent and ad hoc reports for the purpose of outlining key elements that should be addressed during the crisis. Where internal displacement has occurred, NHRIs should also report on a continuous basis on how durable solutions for IDPs are met in their national contexts. 

Experiences from Europe

Various NHRIs in Europe, such as in Georgia and Ukraine, have set up units or contact points in their structures to follow developments related to IDPs’ human rights. Those staff work closely with the NHRIs’ other teams as well as human rights defenders and civil society organisations to ensure that their NHRI can contribute effectively to the promotion and protection the human rights of IDPs [substantiate with asking Meri / others for further tips on following groups at risk] Maybe take out, depending

the Office has developed a monitoring system on the basis of broad consultations with IDPs, civil society and state actors. Research to finalise the NHRI monitoring tool has included in-depth consideration of gender issues related to displacement in Ukraine, and results were fed into the methodology. On this basis, the office conducts a wide range of monitoring visits, conducted interviews, monitored court cases and document a broad range of human rights violations. The Office monitored closely the issues of pension benefits requiring displacement in the context of conflict, including of the elderly, and contributed to restore those rights.

– Ukrainian NHRI

the Georgian NHRI monitors closely the human rights of IDPs, and reports on those issues both annually through its Annual Report to the Parliament, as well as through special reports. In 2013, the PDO, several CSOs and international organisations conducted joint monitoring work to assess the human rights compliance of a country-wide renewed registration process for IDPs carried out by the State. The monitoring allowed the PDO to gather detailed information on IDPs’ situation, identify gaps in legislation and practice, and advise state bodies on action needed.

– Georgian NHRI

Monitoring framework – includes a users’ guide. The NHRI has shared the monitoring tool with all monitors, and conducted capacity building training for staff on how to use the tool. The NHRI has also shared the tool with the government and NGOs and developed an Evaluation, Accountability and Learning Plan.

– Philippines NHRI

Legal Assistance and complaints handling 

One issue of concern is that often IDPs have limited knowledge of, or access to resources that the NHRIs and other state mechanisms can provide to support in cases of human rights violations. When handling complaints, NHRIs should strive to enhance the visibility of that channel to receive claims to reach out to IDPs through their monitoring function, or by conducting interviews, contacting CSOs and human rights defenders. NHRIs can provide IDPs with legal assistance to IDPs on their rights, and facilitate their access to justice, remedies and reparations. In some country-contexts, NHRIs can initiate court proceedings, submit amicus curiae, engaging in and support strategic litigation. Some European NHRIshave addressed the Constitutional Court and other competent courts and bodies to support IDP claims 

Ukraine – representation of interest in IDPs’ lawsuits against state authorities. Organisation of workshops to provide free legal assistance to IDPs. BiH NHRI on handling complaints on IDPs’ safe and dignified return / accommodation: https://www.ombudsmen.gov.ba/documents/obmudsmen_doc2019030109434379eng.pdf

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Human rights education & awareness-raising

It is essential that the human rights of IDPs are promoted through raising the public’s awareness on their situation. NHRIs can also provide human rights training to law enforcement officers, and other public servants in camps, resettlement communities, schools, and prisons, as well as the judiciary. Raising awareness of the human rights of IDPs of the civil society and human rights defenders can be of particular support where the NHRI may have limited access to IDPs. NHRIs can also engage in campaigns to facilitate IDPs’ access to information, and some in Europe have provided a wide range of targeted actions to IDPs including multidisciplinary and psychological support. 

Ukraine – Provided training etc Ukrainian NHRI example: organisation of a seminar for IDPs on their electoral rights before the Ukrainian presidential elections (2019). The Ukrainian NHRI has also provided training to NGOs to promote education of rights to children and young people.

– Georgia – psychological support

Cooperation with other human rights actors and bodies at the local, national and international levels  

The issue of displacement is complex and requires connections and cooperation with various actors at various levels. This includes reaching out to IDPs, but also cooperation with human rights defenders and CSOs. At the international level, international partners include the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs, as well as UNHCR OHCHR and other relevant UN agencies. 

Example of Ukrainian NHRI – cooperation with the UNMM – referral of cases of the UNMM to the NHRI, cooperation in monitoring facilities, cooperation in advocating for Istanbul Protocol on torture. Cooperation on training monitors with the NPM+ model. The NHRI has also cooperated with the Russian NHRI on the situation in Crimea, and has (had?) monitors in Eastern Ukraine.

– Example of Ukrainian NHRI