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UNHCR Dialogue: U.S. Statement on Protecting the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
December 12, 2013

UNHCR Dialogue: U.S. Statement on Protecting the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

UNHCR Dialogue on Protecting the Internally Displaced Statement

Delivered by Anne C. Richard
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

Geneva, Switzerland
December 11, 2013


On behalf of the U.S. delegation, I commend the High Commissioner for selecting the protection of internally displaced persons, or IDPs, as the topic of this year’s Dialogue.

We need to convert the widespread interest in today’s topic into ensuring that the protection of 30 million or more internally displaced persons around the world is more effective and consistent.

During the next day and a half, I look forward to serious, detailed, and practical discussions on some of the most important IDP protection challenges we face.

The U.S. delegation will be an active participant in all four Breakout sessions.  In this plenary session, I simply want to take a few minutes to offer the perspective on IDP protection that my government brings into today’s Dialogue.

We believe that the involvement of all of us – UN agencies, governments, non-governmental organizations, and the IDPs themselves – is necessary to advance the protection of IDPs.

First, the United Nations as a whole must continue to strengthen its commitment and activities to protect and aid IDPs.

With their international protection mandates, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and UNICEF all have particularly crucial roles to fulfill.

They must be committed to these responsibilities 365 days a year.  The protection cluster in particular should advocate effectively for the rights and protections of IDPs, demonstrate strong leadership through its efforts, and ensure that assistance across all the clusters is provided in a way that enhances IDPs’ physical protection.

Those charged with protecting IDPs must maintain a strong working relationship with the Humanitarian Country team and the Resident Coordinator / Humanitarian Coordinator, who in turn must serve as strong advocates for IDP protection in discussions with government officials and others in affected countries.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons has the potential to play an extremely important part within the UN system.

My government has strongly supported this position and has sought to strengthen it in order to advance the goal of IDP protection worldwide.

Let’s be realistic: a Special Rapporteur working part-time on a limited budget is only a piece of what is needed for the UN to be effective on these issues.

Nonetheless, we have seen examples where visits and reports of the Special Rapporteur have made a difference, such as greater engagement in IDP issues by the governments of Georgia and Yemen, as well as the Special Rapporteur’s current work to sharpen international focus on the protection needs of IDP women globally.

We count on the Special Rapporteur to be an aggressive voice of conscience.  Governments should facilitate his unhindered travel to analyze displacement crises around the world.

We welcome discussion at this Dialogue about ways to further support the Special Rapporteur and strengthen his international influence.

Let’s turn to other roles that governments must or can play.  First and foremost, governments must respect and protect the human rights of IDPs.

We encourage governments to develop and enact domestic laws and policies relating to displaced persons.  UNHCR, the Special Rapporteur, and other experts here today can help governments develop and implement laws and policies that are consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which we consider a useful framework.

And to our African colleagues here today, we hope that more African countries will ratify and implement the African Union’s Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons.

It may serve as a model for the rest of the world.  Through these legal avenues and policy instruments, we seek to ensure that the human rights of displaced persons are protected.

Governments also have an important role to play as donors.  The U.S. government contributes hundreds of millions of dollars annually to humanitarian programs that protect and assist IDPs.

However, these programs often are significantly underfunded and desperately need greater attention from international donors.

Finally, let us not forget the displaced persons themselves.  In all that we do, and in all our discussions at this Dialogue, we should remember to look for ways to empower displaced populations to safeguard their own rights, their own safety, and their dignity.

We must bear in mind that displaced persons remain in their own country, where they should be entitled to their full rights and privileges as citizens.

The outcome we desire is not the best delivery of aid and protection to IDPs by international actors; it is that IDPs receive what they need from their own governments.

In Syria, we see yet again the human misery that occurs when a fails to help and, in fact, attacks massive numbers of internally displaced persons – its own citizens — in dire need of help.  This is unacceptable.

In conclusion, I salute you, High Commissioner Guterres, for selecting this topic for your annual Dialogue.  Your agency has much expertise to offer.

And all of us at this Dialogue have much work to do.  It is our hope and expectation that by tomorrow afternoon, this Dialogue will conclude with specific, concrete steps that we all can pursue in 2014 to strengthen protection for internally displaced persons.

This is not UNHCR’s responsibility alone.  Let us all get to work.