Laws and policies on internal displacement: not as dull as you might think

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Laws and policies on internal displacement stand at the core of an effective IDP response. Their development requires coordinated efforts involving different actors under the lead of the State.

For reasons largely inexplicable to me, speaking about laws and policies on IDPs, even to an audience of humanitarian practitioners, does not tend to arouse the greatest of interest. Indeed, one may face anything from plain boredom to scepticism. A sense of aversion towards legal technicalities and a language that appears almost immune to modernisation probably helps to explain such reactions.

But even if we accept that indigestible concepts and far from gripping vocabulary does not make the topic too appealing, the fact that many humanitarians find nothing sexy about laws and policies on IDPs is still somewhat puzzling. Not only because they constitute the most obvious point of convergence between humanitarian and human rights discourse, but also because normative frameworks on displacement are essentially a government’s calling card when it comes to its response to the phenomenon and a pre-condition for tangible operational achievements.

Why normative frameworks?

Laws and policies on internal displacement crystallise measures that prevent or at least rein in the risk of people being forced to flee their homes. They also set out the requirements for an adequate response when it does happen by establishing rights-holders’ entitlements on the one hand, and duty-bearers’ obligations on the other. By setting out clear parameters for engagement by national and local institutions working to address IDPs’ needs, determining coordination between different layers of the institutional architecture and assigning roles to non-state providers, they lay the foundation for an appropriate solution to the problem. Is that really so dull?

International and regional efforts

The publication of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in 1998 and the African Union’s adoption of the Kampala Convention in 2009 were landmarks signalling the will of the international community and regional institutions to establish common supranational frameworks on the issue. In 2015, the global protection cluster established a task team on law and policy to coordinate support for regional efforts to develop and reinforce such instruments, and for normative exercises undertaken at the national level.

Co-led by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and IDMC, the team put a series of initiatives in place to build local capacity for their development and implementation, provide technical advice to authorities and others engaged in such work, and to act as a global forum of expertise on legislative processes on internal displacement.

How to support states in developing their frameworks?

The task team also recently redesigned a training package to build capacity on displacement law and policy-making originally developed by IDMC, UNHCR and the office of the special rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs. Available to the public on IDMC’s website, it highlights the need to establish effective frameworks that prevent and address displacement crises. In order to encourage the harmonious development of such instruments, it also recommends a consultative approach involving a range of institutions and organisations, IDPs themselves and other affected communities.

With a view to increasing global knowledge of laws and policies on displacement and describing their salient features, in the second half of 2015 IDMC and the task team also mapped their development in more than 70 countries. Driven by a desire to focus on them as a source of lessons learned that might improve existing frameworks and inspire new ones it created a new database of such instruments, which is also hosted on IDMC’s website.

Law and policy-making on internal displacement is an emerging area of states’ regulation, and the need to support it has been reiterated in different arenas, most recently during the build-up to the World Humanitarian Summit. The regional consultations that took place in 2015 repeatedly called for the adoption of national and regional frameworks on displacement, a recommendation now framed in the UN secretary general’s report to the summit.

The appropriate technical expertise is often not present at the local level, but this is no excuse. It should rather be an incentive to provide it, and we hope our new set of tools will help to at least partially fill the gap. In doing so, it might also make the topic, if not everybody’s cup of tea, then at least a bit more approachable for all.