Preventing internal displacement of peoples

Preventing massive migrations of people within countries
A crucial element of the mandate of the Representative of the Secretary-General is prevention. To the extent that human rights violations are a major cause and consequence of internal displacement, preventive strategies are essential and need to be further explored. United Nations' human rights bodies have an important role to play in developing strategies for addressing the root causes of massive displacements and making recommendations for their prevention. Preventive measures generally include an early warning system, dialogue with governments, machinery for the protection of minorities, and the deployment of human rights field officers. Such measures, however, are at an early stage of development.

Human rights implementation mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights have repeatedly reported on measures of prevention undertaken in the context of their respective mandates. Instructive examples of such activities are the urgent appeals procedures employed routinely by the Special Rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and by the Working Groups on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and on Arbitrary Detention. Other thematic and country rapporteurs have also addressed urgent appeals to governments, acting on information from a variety of intergovernmental and non-governmental sources. These procedures have as their main objective the prevention of human rights violations. The Representative has also begun to issue urgent appeals in cases of impending internal displacement.

Human rights treaty bodies have also considered and employed preventive measures. The chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies, at their 4th meeting, recommended that "ways to empower the Secretary-General and the expert human rights bodies to bring massive violations of human rights to the attention of the Security Council" should be considered. The same meeting concluded that: "... the treaty bodies have an important role in seeking to prevent as well as to respond to human rights violations. It is thus appropriate for each treaty body to undertake an urgent examination of all possible measures that it might take, within its competence, both to prevent human rights violations from occurring and to monitor more closely emergency situations of all kinds arising within the jurisdiction of states parties. Where procedural innovations are required for this purpose, they should be considered as soon as possible".

Such procedures have been adopted by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Some of these bodies have also considered working papers on preventive action, including early warning and urgent procedures. 70/ Human rights treaty bodies have also undertaken missions to countries for preventive and other purposes. Such measures could have an important preventive impact if further enhanced.

Mechanisms for minority protection are also needed. Many displaced persons are members of minority groups who have been subjected to forcible expulsion, resettlement and other persecution because of their ethnic or other origin. The adoption by the UN of standards on minority rights is a welcome development as is the Sub-Commission's work in developing strategies for minority protection. However, it is essential that machinery be created for mediation and reconciliation as a means of redressing emerging minority problems and thereby helping to curb the massive displacements that often result. The appointment within the OSCE of a High Commissioner for National Minorities to engage in preventive diplomacy could be an important model to examine and replicate in other regions.

The establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should add momentum to the development of preventive strategies. The deployment of human rights field officers under the auspices of the High Commissioner is a promising preventive strategy. A striking example of this is in Burundi and Rwanda where human rights field staff are playing a preventive role with the cooperation of the respective governments. This has a direct bearing on preventing the causes that could lead to internal displacement and on creating the confidence to enable internally displaced persons to return to their homes. Observers or monitors of OSCE field operations have also played a valuable preventive function. The importance of establishing and financing small field missions for preventive diplomacy was highlighted by the Secretary-General in his recent report on the work of the organization: "Although special envoys can achieve much on a visiting basis, their capacity is greatly enhanced if continuity can be assured by the presence on the ground of a small support mission on a full-time basis".

The reports of the Representative on his country missions have emphasized the importance of supporting preventive techniques that aim at empowering the population at the grass-roots level. Much can be learned from these communities, which very often have built up effective strategies for mitigating the impact of displacement. NGOs and intergovernmental agencies that become involved with the displaced should carefully examine the coping strategies that displaced populations have developed. The strength and immediacy of mutual support and "community coping mechanisms" are essential elements of prevention and protection.

Counter Claim:
Most protection activities of humanitarian and human rights agencies in the field are "preventive" in one way or the other, directly or indirectly. Serious dilemmas, however, have arisen in cases where efforts at protecting persons have been directed towards forestalling or preventing their movement. In such cases, there is need to reconcile a strategy that encourages people to remain within their o we countries with a strategy that safeguards the cardinal principles of refugee protection - the right to leave and seek asylum from persecution. Providing protection and assistance to the internally displaced in an effort to forestall large-scale population displacements could risk taking precedence over assuring their long-term security, especially when protection remains far from guaranteed. Preventive protection - in the form of humanitarian assistance and international presence - cannot always provide effective protection to victims nor prevent further displacement, unless it is pursued along with measures aimed at conflict resolution and political solutions.

The dilemma of preventive strategies can be even more acute in countries where the governmental structure has fallen apart, and UN agencies and NGOs have to deal with local military commanders, clan leaders and other non-state actors. In less extreme situations, where organized authorities exercise territorial control, military forces are under responsible command, and there are pockets of tranquillity and "humanitarian space", there may be a greater chance for the international community to mobilize realistic responses to prevent the situation from deteriorating further and mitigate the causes of displacement. The Open Relief Centres (ORCs), established by UNHCR in Sri Lanka, provide a possible model for the kind of safe havens that could be introduced.

Type Classification:
D: Detailed strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 10: Reduced Inequality