Blog post by Deborah Casalin, a doctoral researcher in the Law and Development Research Group at the University of Antwerp Law Faculty, Belgium. Her research focuses on reparation for arbitrary displacement and the role of international and regional human rights mechanisms.


2020 was a challenging year for IDPs, with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic adding to the difficulties they already faced, and millions being newly displaced by conflicts, disasters, development projects, evictions and more. In its newly released 2021 Rights Tracker index, the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) includes specific data on IDPs’ rights for the first time, drawn from its survey of primarily locally based human rights experts in 39 countries.[i] This new data provides a snapshot of pressures on IDPs’ rights during the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the countries covered, as well as a window into a number of displacement situations which have remained under the global radar.  


Taking a bird’s eye view of the Rights Tracker data on IDP rights, it can be seen that the rights of IDPs and host populations have been largely affected by similar pressures: economic and social rights issues are mainly linked to poverty, while restrictions on civil and political rights correlate with more general political repression. In a range of countries, respondents indicated that one or both types of pressures intensified in connection with the pandemic, as healthcare was stretched to the limit, schools and businesses shut down, and authoritarian states used emergency measures to restrict political activities and expression even further.  


However, specific concerns over IDPs’ rights clearly came to the fore in countries with well-known, large-scale internal displacement situations resulting from violence and disasters. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Mexico, over 50% of surveyed experts indicated that multiple economic and social rights of IDPs – such as health, housing, food, education and work – were under particular pressure.[ii] In Papua New Guinea – a country with a long-standing internal displacement situation that continued to grow in 2020  – experts also registered a high level of concern for IDPs’ rights, with almost half indicating that IDPs were less likely than other people to have enjoyed the rights to health, housing and food in 2020.  


Even in countries where the level of particular risk to IDPs’ rights was not expressed as strongly, it was also evident that housing rights have been especially affected by COVID-19. The notes on housing rights metrics show that respondents in countries such as Brazil, Malaysia and Nepal specifically highlighted evictions as a key human rights impact of the economic hardships brought about by the pandemic.  


Another overall point of interest in the Rights Tracker data is that it highlights human rights experts’ concerns over IDP rights in a number of contexts, which are not typically addressed in global discussions on internal displacement. This includes smaller or less visible internal displacement situations such as those in Malaysia, FijiKiribati and Guam, as well as high-income economies such as Saudi Arabia and Taiwan. Internationally lesser-known situations of ongoing development-induced displacement were also raised, e.g. in Nepal and Taiwan. This indicates the breadth and variation of human rights practitioners’ understandings of internal displacement in different contexts.  


As recently raised on the RLI blog by members of the Latin American Network on Internal Displacement and by Dr. Ana Mosneaga, internal displacement discourse and responses have tended to focus on conflict situations and on the global South, although international norms such as the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and human rights protections relating to forced eviction have a much wider scope. The perspectives of mainly in-country human rights experts, as expressed in the HRMI Rights Tracker data, are another welcome reminder to view internal displacement through a broad lens. As such, besides offering a useful resource for country and thematic research and an overview of human rights challenges during the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the HRMI Rights Tracker’s new data is valuable as an entry point for understanding the state of IDP rights in contexts that are currently less globally visible.  




Note: the author is not affiliated to the Human Rights Measurement Initiative but wishes to thank Thalia Kehoe Rowden and the Rights Tracker team for advance access to the data. All views and any errors or omissions are the author’s own.    


[i] As the survey covers a wide range of categories of people at risk, the 39 countries were not specifically selected based on the size of their IDP populations or the rate of new internal displacement over the past year. Therefore, many countries with the largest or fastest-growing internal displacement situations are not covered. However, the range of categories of people and human rights themes covered, as well as the input from country-specific human rights experts, makes this a useful resource for country research on the countries covered. Other Rights Tracker “people at risk” categories which may interest RLI blog readers include refugees and asylum seekers, migrants, and people affected by climate change (with the latter also being disaggregated for the first time in this latest survey).

[ii] Survey data is also disaggregated over a range of specific civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, making this a helpful resource for thematic research as well.    



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