Statement on rights of internally displaced persons
12 February 2014
WCC Executive Committee
7-12 February 2014
1. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are among the world’s most vulnerable people and IDPs in several countries of the world pose serious challenges for humanity. In recent months, millions of people have been internally displaced in different parts of the world. As IDPs have not crossed an international border (as is the case of refugees), they have to find sanctuary inside their home countries and remain legally under the protection of their own government, even though their own government might be responsible for uprooting them. The United Nation’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in its annual Global Trends report, released in 2013, revealed that, as of the end of 2012, more than 45.2 million people were in situations of displacement. As the war in Syria has intensified and conflicts and violence have escalated in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Myanmar last year, along with natural disasters in several other countries, the number of IDPs globally is now much higher than in previous years.
2. The causes for internal displacements vary in countries and regions; these include conflicts, violence, natural and human-made disasters, human rights violations, , armed conflicts and occupation. The consequences of internal displacement are severe, costly and long-lasting, especially in terms of loss of homes, belongings, livelihoods, separation of families and disruption of family and community life. While internal displacement impedes the achievement of development goals, it also forces people to live in vulnerable and inhuman conditions particularly in situations affected by conflict.
3. The escalation of violence last year in two conflict situations, in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, are examples of this trend. As the violence in the Central African Republic has reached unprecedented levels, aid organizations estimated that the number of IDPs has now increased to more than a million, and this has further hampered humanitarian relief efforts. According to an assessment by the UN in mid-January 2014, the turmoil of recent weeks has left 2.6 million people in need of humanitarian aid. Each of the 4.6 million Central Africans has been affected in one way or the other by the breakdown of law and order. Since the fighting in South Sudan started by the middle of December last year, nearly half a million people have fled their homes and thousands have been killed. Many have sought safety by crowding onto boats, and overloaded boats have capsized several times with the resultant drowning of their passengers. More than 200 displaced persons drowned in a Nile ferry accident in January this year while fleeing fighting in the town of Malakal in South Sudan. Conflict, violence and human rights abuses continue to create new displacements in sub-Saharan Africa. There are about 5.4 million internally displaced people (IDPs), mainly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mali and Somalia.
4. The conflict in Syria generates extraordinary levels of displacement each day. By the end of 2013, the number of Syrians displaced was more than 6.2 million according to the UNHCR, and 2.2 million were forced to flee their country. Another 4 million people remain within Syria as IDPs. Pakistan has more than one million IDPs affected by security operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The UNHCR estimates that some 600,000 people within Afghanistan have been uprooted from their homes by conflict. Many have been displaced more than once, owing to lack of protection or livelihood opportunities in areas of return. In Myanmar, inter-communal violence in Rakhine State and conflicts between the Kachin rebel groups and the government forces displaced more than 230,000 civilians. In all these circumstances, the IDPs are forced to live in extremely vulnerable situations.
5. As citizens of the same country in which they are displaced, the IDPs will have to turn for help from their own governments and authorities, which bear the primary responsibility for protecting and assisting them. In most contexts where IDPs live, the local or national governments are not in a position to undertake the responsibility due to limited capacities and financial resources. They also lack protection by the constitutional guarantees or relevant domestic legislation. IDPs have the right to benefit from equality without discrimination, the same rights and freedoms under international and national law as do other persons in their country. States have a responsibility to ensure the full and equal entitlement of human rights of all individuals on their territory or under their jurisdiction. This responsibility of the State extends to all apparatus of the State. The responsibilities of the State to respect, protect and fulfil human rights apply at all times, including during armed conflict and disasters.
6. International law does not specifically address the plight of IDPs, but IDPs are normally protected by international human rights law and in times of armed conflict by international humanitarian law (IHL). The extent of a State’s obligations depends on the international conventions to which it is a party. States are also bound by rules of customary international law, and may have obligations under regional agreements. Several regional bodies, including the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Council of Europe (CoE), encouraged their member states to develop national policies to address the concerns of the IDPs. In Africa, the Great Lakes Protocol and the Kampala Convention make it mandatory for member states to develop national legal frameworks to protect the rights of the IDPs. However, there need to be more concerted efforts to make these initiatives a reality and install effective protection mechanisms to ensure the right of IDPs.
7. There is no specific international convention on internal displacement, but international human rights law and international humanitarian law should shape the approach to internal displacement and guide any effort to develop a national instrument. The Guiding Principles constitute the key document on the protection and assistance of IDPs worldwide. The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement have been recognized as an important framework for the protection and assistance of IDPs. The Guiding Principles are in essence a reaffirmation of existing international humanitarian and human rights law when they apply to the contexts of IDPs, but they are not binding upon States.
8. The churches have long been involved in ministry to uprooted people including IDPs and in many contexts of IDPs. The churches are called to become active in providing humanitarian assistance. With an upsurge of local and national conflicts in the global South, churches at the grassroots in these countries are called to respond immediately to such crises. The growing trend of increased IDPs and their vulnerability poses a serious challenge to the churches all over the world.
The executive committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Bossey, Switzerland, from 7 to 12 February 2014, therefore:
Expresses deep concern for the alarming trend of high numbers of internally displaced persons throughout the world, for many reasons including armed conflict, violations of human rights and natural or human-made disasters;
Deplores practices of forced displacement and their negative consequences, negating the entitlement to human rights and fundamental freedoms
Expresses concern regarding the situation of IDPs who receive inadequate protection and assistance even though the IDPs have the same right of equality and freedoms that all citizens in their country benefit under international and domestic laws;
Emphasizes that States have the primary responsibility to provide protection and assistance to IDPs within their jurisdiction, as well as to address the root causes of the displacement problem in appropriate cooperation with the international community;
Requests the international community to strengthen further their protection and assistance to deal with human rights and humanitarian dimensions of the problem of IDPs, including addressing long-term displacement situations, and the responsibilities of States;
Reaffirms that all persons, including those internally displaced, have the right to freedom of movement and residence and should be protected against being arbitrarily displaced;
Acknowledges the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement as an important international framework for the protection of internally displaced persons;
Encourages all relevant actors to make use of the Guiding Principles when dealing with situations of internal displacement;
Urges states to continue to develop and implement domestic legislation and policies to protect the rights of IDPs;
Welcomes the initiatives undertaken by various regional organizations in Africa, Europe and the Americas to address the protection, assistance and development needs of IDPs;
Encourages regional organizations in other continents, such as ASEAN and SAARC, to initiate regional and domestic legislations to protect the rights of IDPs;
Calls on WCC member churches to be engaged in advocacy on developing national and regional mechanisms and instruments to protect the rights of IDPs;
Calls on member churches to pray for the IDPs who are forced into displacement and live in vulnerable situations and demonstrate their witness and service.