The treatment of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees is being highlighted by the World Council of Churches (WCC) at the 58th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) beginning today, 18 March, and continuing through 26 April.

The WCC has filed a written submission on the conditions in detention camps of refugees in Australia and of IDPs in Sri Lanka. Representatives from churches in Australia and Sri Lanka will be attending the UN sessions to draw attention to these conditions.

While focusing on these two situations, the submission states that "The problems faced by refugees and IDPs are not confined to any one particular region.... Inadequate attention is paid to their plight, which is compounded by restrictive state policies and discriminatory practices. On pretext of national security, the state often derogates from adopting and practising internationally accepted norms and standards of human rights in respect of refugees and IDPs. This practice should be challenged and denounced."

Members of an ecumenical strategy group on Indonesia, together with representatives of ELSHAM, a human rights organization that works closely with the churches in West Papua, will be lobbying for a visit of Special Rapporteurs to Indonesia.

A representative of the Centre for Legal Aid and Assistance (CLAAS) in Pakistan will attend the UNCHR session for the first time to network and lobby for amendments to blasphemy laws.

The WCC will be following the processes related to the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the Permanent Forum and the draft declaration.

In addition, the WCC will monitor developments in relation to such thematic issues as religious intolerance, socioeconomic and cultural rights, impunity and country-specific situations in Colombia, Haiti, Sudan, India, Nigeria and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Representatives from church-related partners in Haiti and Nigeria will be attending the Commission.

Clement John, programme executive in the WCC International Relations team, notes that the foci of WCC's interventions at the UNCHR come out of its regular human rights work in cooperation with regional and national partners. He noted that, while addressing ongoing concerns about civil and political as well as socioeconomic and cultural rights, the WCC "is called to respond to pressing new challenges faced by churches as a result of complex political emergencies".

Internally-displaced persons (IDPs)

IDPs are "persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged 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" (1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement by the Representative of the Secretary General on Internally-Displaced Persons). While a "refugee" - someone crossing an international frontier - becomes eligible for international protection and assistance, such assistance is much more problematic for someone in similar circumstances displaced within his or her home country.

See background information on the WCC's participation in the 58th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights