Towards a regime For The Protection Of Internally Displaced Persons


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In any armed conflict, and particularly those with ethnic or religious underpinnings, the humanitarian needs are immense - and the means to satisfy those needs within the conflict area are severely limited. Internally displaced civilian populations move from one place to another, seeking safety and protection inside their own country. Forced population movements resulting in mass exoduses constitute by their very nature infringements of international human rights and humanitarian law. In his compilation and analysis of legal norms pertaining to internally displaced persons,43  the Representative of the Secretary­General identified a number of human rights norms that are violated when forced displacement occurs. In particular, the fundamental right to freedom of movement and to choose one’s own residence, as well as the right to housing are jeopardised. Forced displacement is also prohibited by international humanitarian law, in particular articles 49 and 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, article 17 of Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions, entitled “Prohibition of forced movement of civilians”, and articles 51 (7) and 85 (4) (a) of Additional Protocol I.

Sometimes internally displaced persons find a degree of security, but the price they invariably pay is that of being completely uprooted - of losing their homes, their jobs and their livelihoods. More often than not for these people, interior exile leads only to more suffering, insecurity, harassment and persecution. Increasingly, the displacement of civilian populations - under the guise of “ethnic cleansing” or some other pretext - is no longer a by-product of war, but the very goal thereof. And all too often, displaced persons are suspected of allegiance to an enemy clan or political group. Almost always they are caught in the crossfire and become pawns in a sordid bargaining game. They are forced by one side to give military service, and accused by the other of treason. In general, it is virtually impossible for these displaced persons to maintain any sort of “neutrality.” They are caught in a no-win situation.

Internally displaced people can also be exposed to more direct physical threats. In a number of countries, camps and settlements for displaced persons have been the target of attacks by the warring parties – a particular problem in situations where those camps are believed to accommodate military elements. One of the most tragic instances of this type occurred at the Kibeho camp in Rwanda in April 1995, when thousands of internally displaced people (the exact number has not been established) were killed during a military operation designed to close down the camp and send its residents back to their places of origin.44  Armed attacks on camps, settlements and so-called ‘safe areas’ accommodating the internally displaced have also occurred in countries such as Bosnia, Burundi, Chechnya, Lebanon, Liberia, Sudan and Sri Lanka, resulting in thousands of deaths and forcing many other people to flee for a second time.

When refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons are hosted in the same area, conflicts sometimes erupt between them. This has been the case for example in north Burundi, where Burundian Tutsi internally displaced persons and Rwandan Hutu refugees are housed in camps that are next to each other and are frequently competing for access to the same scarce resources.45 

Refugees and displaced persons are often subjected to forced recruitment. According to the Special Rapporteur on the former Yugoslavia, thousands of Serb refugees from Croatia and the Krajina region have been allegedly forcibly conscripted and for that purpose expelled to Serb­controlled territories in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.46

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