We went in joy and in sorrow; Because of the destruction and the disgrace, We grieved for our community and we rejoiced that we had escaped with so many survivors2 I’m leaving I’m leaving now Before loneliness Suffocates me I’m leaving Before I leave I want to say thanks ... I am grateful for all the beautiful eyes who saw a (hu)man in me and not an alien.3
Millions all over the world are currently internally displaced as a result of various causes including forcible movements to inhospitable areas, civil wars in which villages have been destroyed and ethnic persecution through government policies.4 Yet the plight of internally displaced persons is a problem that is not directly addressed by any international instrument, thereby contributing to the ad hoc nature of the international community’s response to such crises. The failure of the international community to address this problem may result in a threat to the internal stability of states, since those persons who are not assisted and protected in their own country often seek such assistance and protection as refugees in other countries. In doing so, they join the already swollen ranks of the approximately 17 million refugees.5 Given the recent heightened awareness of the suffering endured by internally displaced persons, it is time for the international community to address this problem from a legal standpoint.
The phenomenon of internal displacement has gradually become an internationalised one, and the reason behind this trend is not far to seek. The presence of internally displaced persons within national territory means that their own government bears primary responsibility for meeting their protection and assistance needs. The irony of this is glaring, since more often than not, it is these very governments that cause or, to a lesser level of fault, tolerate such internal displacement. Therefore, in most cases, they are either unwilling or unable to guarantee the basic rights and minimum needs of their internally displaced persons. This has led to the international community, inter-governmental and non- governmental organisations taking up the cause of these hapless people.6 It is this issue which has controversially forced itself onto the agenda of international refugee law that is the focus of analysis in the present paper. The present article raises the fundamental issues in the discourse focussing on the development of a regime for the protection of IDP’s. It must be clarified at the very outset that this paper is based on the premise that IDP’s in most cases would not include cases of development- induced displacement, for reasons explained in a subsequent section of the present paper. Therefore, a critique of development- induced displacement (possibly focussing on the Narmada decision in the Indian context) is outside the scope of detailed analysis in this paper.