Blog post written by Amilcar Kraudie, a current student on our MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies.
At a time when the 20th anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (GPID) was celebrated by a wide range of stakeholders and the African Union (AU) has declared 2019 as “the Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa”, perhaps it is appropriate to assesses the extent to which the GPID has advanced the protection of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). With this aim in mind, the IDP definition, regional and national IDP frameworks, and the international aid system are critically assessed in this post to highlight substantial strides shaped by the GPID in the protection of IDPs along with obstacles precluding greater advancement. Ultimately, although the GPID has achieved far-reaching breakthroughs in the protection of IDPs, specifically in terms of anchoring an inclusive and universal IDP definition and shaping IDP instruments (e.g., the Kampala Convention) namely in Africa, the implementation of IDP regional and national frameworks requires greater commitment and attention, whilst new approaches to achieving ‘solutions’ for IDPs require proactive efforts.
A principal contribution of the UN GPID is the IDP definition (or description, as indicated by Kälin) it contains. While the scope of the definition – encompassing two core elements: the involuntary nature of movement and the fact that such movement occurs within national borders – may appear self-evident today, there is hardly any doubt that definitions of IDPs that came before the GPID were of a narrower scope. Indeed, there are those who have promoted the steer to confine the IDP definition to persons “uprooted by persecution and conflict” which would leave out, in particular, persons displaced by natural disasters as well as ‘development projects’. However, the GPID IDP description is inclusive of these groups in addition to others. As such, although there is a general recognition that there is notable room to improve adherence to the definition in state policy and practice, it is nevertheless worth acknowledging that, as Cohen and Deng argue, “the IDP definition [has] proved resilient enough to stand the test of time”. This statement certainly rings true when reviewing existing the majority of new national legislation and policies that include definitions of IDPs. Typically, the definitions make a direct a reference to the GPID, adopt the definition enshrined in the GPID, or they indicate the two core elements (as described above) as well as some causes of displacement. Indeed, Simon Russel asserts that the “Guiding Principles have been most successful in forging international agreement on and conformity to the meaning of who is an ‘IDP”.
Belet Weyne Flood IDPs (Somalia)
Regional/national IDP frameworks
Considering, specifically, Principle 3(1) of the GPID which has been correlated with the emergence of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine affirmed by the 2005 World Summit, the 2006 Protocol on the Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons (Protocol) (refer to the Preamble) as well as the 2009 African Union’s Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) are significantly influenced by the development of the GPID. Furthermore, while 7 countries in Africa have adopted IDP-specific-laws or policies, it is noteworthy that at a global level 29 (a figure that has been increasing) states have enacted laws or policies on internal displacement since the 1998 adoption of the GPID. Although such developments may not appear to be meaningful given the fairly limited number of states that have adopted national IDP instruments (when compared, for instance, to States Parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol) along with the generally all too familiar challenges with the implementation of IDP laws and policies, the legally binding nature (unlike the GPID which is not legally binding) of the two aforementioned African instruments sets an important milestone for IDP protection. Indeed, the Kampala Convention in some respects raises the standards (beyond the legal aspect) contained in the GPID – which, in turn, markedly advances the normative scope of IDP protection. Moreover, the GPID has been instrumental in national legal reforms promoted by the Constitutional Court of Colombia and Georgia respectively.
According to MacGuire, the GPID (Principles 28-30) “provides the backdrop for solutions” for IDPs, whereas the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Framework “provides clarity on the concept of a durable solution and general guidance on how to achieve it”. The significance of this complementarity is captured by Russel in his assertion that “Protection clusters around the world have used the Guiding Principles as inspiration for the development of national or laws or policies (Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan), durable solution frameworks (Myanmar, Ukraine, Uganda), and peace agreements (Sudan), which have in turn provided direction to humanitarian response efforts and means of measuring progress in the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs)”. However, despite these important GPID contributions to the element of humanitarian assistance in IDP protection, the GPID’s reach is constrained by shortfalls in the global aid system. Ferris highlights key “limits to humanitarian action in preventing and resolving displacement”, including the ‘humanitarian-development gap’. Similarly, in line with the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s (IDMC) appeal for internal displacement to be “a key component of national and global development agendas”, McAdam agrees with the need for ‘a new approach’ that champions “more coherent, coordinated responses” in the pursuit of solutions broadly framed in the GPID.
In critically assessing the IDP definition, regional and national IDP frameworks, and overall humanitarian aid for IDPs as influenced by the UN GPID, this post has shown that while the GPID has ensured far-reaching advancements in the protection of IDPs, specifically in terms of anchoring an inclusive and universal IDP definition and shaping IDP instruments particularly in Africa, the patchy implementation of IDP regional and national frameworks and paucity of innovative approaches to achieving ‘solutions’ for IDPs undermines greater GPID contributions. If 2019 is to be “the year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa”, we owe it to IDPs in Africa and beyond to not merely honour the spirit of the GPID, but to meaningfully advance its scope for protection in a global pursuit of leaving no one behind.
 MacGuire, D. 2018, ‘The Relationship between National Normative Frameworks on Internal Displacement and the Reduction of Displacement’, International Journal of Refugee Law, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 281.
 Russel, S. 2018, ‘The Operational Relevance of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement’, International Journal of Refugee Law, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 308.
 McAdam, J. 2018, ‘The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: 20 Years On’, International Journal of Refugee Law, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 188.
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