Protection of Internally Displaced Persons – the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

This workshop was sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy

Speakers: Moetsi Duchatellier, Human Rights Officer, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Geneva and
Carol Rittner, RSM – Professor of Genocide and Holocaust Studies at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

Currently there are 26 million internally displaced people who have had to flee their homes because of conflict, climate change or because of natural disasters. The difference between an IDP (Internally displace person) and a refugee is that a refugee has crossed a recognized international border.

In 1994 the first steps were taken to give rights to IDPs. Of the current 26 million IDPs, over half are on the continent of Africa.

An IDP is a person who has been

  • forced to flee
  • has not crossed an international border
  • has been displaced within their own country because of development (clearing of slums to make way for new buildings.

    The guiding principles which outline how IDPs should be treated were accepted by all governments in 2005 and are now translated into 50 languages. The guiding principles state that:

    1. IDPs have the same rights as other people of their country
    2. National Authorities have the responsibility to provide protection
    3. It is the right of every human being to be protected from displacement.
    4. Within IDPs the most vulnerable group is women and girls.

Some discussion followed this presentation on the whether the Guiding Principles actually make a difference. Attendees were encouraged to contact the High Commissioner for Human Rights when the above is not being implemented: the email address is - urgent-action@OHCHR

In the second part of the presentation Carol Rittner said that there is growing evidence that women and girls suffer sexual crimes when they are displaced. Using as an example, Carol quoted from Nicholas Kristof most recent article which was published in the International herald on Tuesday September 4, 2008. In that article Dr. Hamilma Bashir, a young Darfurian woman doctor tells her story or beatings and gang-rape as her country tries to silence her as she speaks truth to power about the situation in Darfur. When the janjaweed attacked a girl’s school in rural Darfur and raped over a dozen young girls aged between 7 and 13, Dr. Bashir found herself treating the girls with tears running down her face. “All I had to offer these girls was a pill; at no stage in my medical training was I taught how to deal with an 8 year-old of gang rape in a rural clinic, without enough sutures to go around.” When two UN officials showed up at the clinic to gather information about the attack, Dr Bashir told them the truth. A few days later the secret police kidnapped her. For days they beat her, gang-raped her, cut her with knives, burned her with cigarettes. Upon her release, a shattered Halima returned to her native village. Soon it was attacked her father killed and she still does not know what happened to her mother or brothers.

Carol used this story to question IF in fact any international signing of legal frameworks makes a difference to the victims? As news coverage of Dafur’s horrors again ebb, the regime in Khartoum appears to have out waited the international community again. The men and women who have orchestrated ethnic destruction in Darfur; in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere believe that by threatening humanitarian assistance and UN peacekeeping presence, they can have their way with international justice and determine the fate of women and girls who are forced to experience rape as a weapon of war whenever and wherever there is conflict.

But as Carol noted in her presentation there can be no ringing our hands in despair. Talk is indeed cheap. Action costs. Join the Stop Rape now campaign. Involve Men; inform self: Challenge international lawyers to develop language beyond guiding principles.