Seminar on internal displacement in southern Sudan

Originally published
The seminar on Internal Displacement in Southern Sudan, held in Rumbek, Sudan, November 25, 2002, was the first directly convened by the Brookings-SAIS Project with the cooperation and active participation of non-state actors, in this case the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the Sudan People's Democratic Front (SPDF). Its overall purpose was to try to promote greater attention to the needs of internally displaced populations living in areas controlled by non-state actors. The Brookings-SAIS Project has found that in civil war situations, far less attention is generally paid to internally displaced persons in areas controlled by non-state actors than in governmentcontrolled regions. There is often little reporting on their numbers, conditions or treatment, and access to them is often limited. Another major purpose of the seminar was to increase non-state actor accountability with the international humanitarian and human rights standards restated in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Non-state actors as well as state actors are often responsible for the displacement of people and the violation of their human rights. Yet UN agencies often have been reluctant to deal with insurgents, fearing that this might lend legitimacy to the rebel movements and offend the government concerned.

In recent years, however, U.N. agencies have been interacting more with non-state actors. Indeed, Operation Lifeline Sudan is an example of international agencies working on both sides of a conflict without necessarily according legitimacy to the non-state actor in international law. The Brookings-SAIS Project, for its part, in addition to the Rumbek seminar, has been working with the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), an NGO umbrella group in Sri Lanka, which has been organizing seminars on the Guiding Principles with members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

We express appreciation to UNICEF for co-sponsoring the Rumbek seminar, in particular to Julianna Lindsey, James Oryema and Anna Michael Hadjixieros for their participation in the seminar and to Ms. Lindsey and Pia Vraalsen for helping with the preparations on the ground. We also thank three staff members of the Brookings-SAIS Project for their efforts in organizing and carrying out the seminar. Galit Wolfensohn, a researcher provided by the Government of Canada through the United Nations Association of Canada, did the initial planning for the Rumbek seminar, developed the background paper, and carried out painstaking and extensive research into conditions of internally displaced persons in areas under non-state control, including in Southern Sudan. Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, Research Analyst with our Project, continued the preparatory work for the seminar, including the further development of the various documents, bringing to this work her experience in having trained members of the SPLM/A and the SPDF in the Guiding Principles at a special program organized by the IDP Unit of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). David Fisher, Senior Research and Legal Officer, finalized seminar preparations, led the discussions on the Guiding Principles, and prepared the seminar report. We also thank Gladys Alumit for editorial assistance.

Roberta Cohen
Francis M. Deng
Brookings-SAIS Project on Internal Displacement


On November 25, 2002, a Seminar on Internal Displacement in Southern Sudan was held in Rumbek, Sudan, co-sponsored by The Brookings Institution-SAIS Project on Internal Displacement, the Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). This was the first seminar convened by the Representative and The Brookings-SAIS Project with the cooperation and active participation of non-state actors.

The purposes of the seminar were: to examine the worldwide problem of internal displacement with particular reference to Southern Sudan; discuss the content and application of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement with particular attention to their application to non-state actors; stimulate the further development of strategies for addressing issues of internal displacement, including issues of return, resettlement and reintegration; and reinforce the efforts of those in civil society interested in strengthening local and national capacities.

The meeting was chaired by Dr. Francis M. Deng, Representative of the Secretary- General on Internally Displaced Persons and Co-Director of The Brookings-SAIS Project. The 39 participants represented executive and humanitarian authorities of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the Sudan People's Democratic Front (SPDF), international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with operations in Southern Sudan, local civil society, as well as host communities and internally displaced persons. (For agenda, participants list and background paper, see Appendices A, B and C.)

Opening Remarks

The Seminar opened with a prayer led by Bishop Caesar Mazzolari of the Diocese of Rumbek. Bishop Mazzolari drew the participants' attention to the story of Exodus and to the Bible's admonition that persons driven from their homes be sheltered and aided in their distress.

Elijah Malok, Executive Director of the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA), the humanitarian arm of the SPLM/A, then offered an opening statement welcoming the participants on behalf of the SPLM/A leadership. Mr. Malok stated that both the Sudanese and the international community had realized that the time had come to address the issue of internal displacement in Sudan. In this connection, he noted several areas of inquiry which he believed most urgently needed to be addressed, in particular how to (1) gather and centralize basic data on internally displaced persons in Southern Sudan, such as their number, locations, and demographic makeup; (2) improve coordination among the SPLM/A, international and national authorities; and (3) ensure that the human rights of internally displaced persons are respected. (For full text of statement, see Appendix D.)

UNICEF Project Officer Julianna Lindsey welcomed the participants on behalf of both UNICEF and Bernt Aason, Deputy Humanitarian Affairs Officer of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Sudan. The Representative of the Secretary-General, Francis M. Deng, also extended his welcome to the participants, noting that the seminar was occurring at a hopeful time of negotiations for peace.

Global Overview of Internal Displacement

Dr. Deng proceeded to discuss the global context of internal displacement and the history of the international response to the problem. He shared his view that response to internal displacement worldwide, frequently resulting from civil war, is often constrained by a ruptured sense of national solidarity and identity, which can lead states to withhold their protection from their own nationals. The international community is then needed to step in and fill the vacuum. Such involvement, however, confronts the challenges of sovereignty. While the concept of national sovereignty has traditionally been interposed as a barrier to international intervention in the plight of persons displaced within their own borders, the 1990s saw an increasing recognition that sovereignty carries with it the responsibility to ensure that basic human rights are observed. During the same period, however, the number of internally displaced persons continued to rise to a current estimate of 25 million persons, of which 10-11.5 million are in Africa, and 4.5 million in Sudan.

In 1992, Dr. Deng was appointed as the United Nations Secretary-General's Representative on Internally Displaced Persons, with a mandate to explore the normative framework for internally displaced persons, address the institutional response to their needs, conduct country missions, and foster research on the issue. At the request of the UN Commission on Human Rights and General Assembly, the Representative convened a group of legal experts who drafted the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement ("the Guiding Principles"), an instrument designed to restate and interpret existing human rights and humanitarian norms relevant to internally displaced persons in one coherent document. Since they were formally presented to the Commission in 1998, the Guiding Principles have been widely accepted as an authoritative and useful tool for formulating policy at the international, regional and national levels. Through his 25 country missions (including three to Sudan), frequent regional and national conferences, and advocacy at the international level, the Representative has promoted these principles and encouraged the relevant actors to develop policies that better serve the internally displaced.

Because no single agency within the UN has been designated to have the primary responsibility for the internally displaced, emphasis has been placed on enhancing collaboration among the many agencies and NGOs that play a role with the internally displaced. To achieve better coordination, the Secretary-General designated the Emergency Relief Coordinator as UN focal point on internally displaced persons. The ERC chairs the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, composed of the heads of the major humanitarian and development organizations and NGO umbrella groups. It now meets regularly to discuss issues pertinent to internal displacement. At the national level, "Resident Coordinators" and "Humanitarian Coordinators" have been designated to serve as focal points for the response to internal displacement in a number of affected countries. The system represents a considerable improvement over previous years, but it remains far from ideal, especially in situations like Southern Sudan. There is no resident coordinator or humanitarian coordinator specifically for Southern Sudan, notwithstanding the administrative divisions between Operation Lifeline Sudan of the north and the south and the tremendously different working environment in the two areas of the country. As the Southern Sudan model shows, therefore, more work needs to be done to render cooperation between international humanitarian agencies and organizations working on the ground.

Dr. Deng noted that he had undertaken three missions to Sudan and continued to be engaged in the country because Sudan remains the hardest-hit country in the world with respect to internal displacement, with more than 4 million displaced persons. He had been encouraged by the government of Sudan's recent participation in a seminar on the Guiding Principles convened by the OCHA IDP Unit and by the government's organization of its own policy seminar on internal displacement in 2002. He was also encouraged by the efforts currently being undertaken by the humanitarian wings of the SPLM/A and SPDF to incorporate the Guiding Principles into their policies and activities. In this regard, he noted the participation of these organizations in two training sessions on the Guiding Principles conducted by the OCHA IDP Unit, in September and November 2002, and their participation in the current seminar. Dr. Deng commended them for their recognition that non-state actors also have responsibilities for safeguarding the rights and well-being of internally displaced persons and called upon them to continue to make good on their commitments.