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Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, 24 October 2012

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

Durable solutions were needed to address the plight of the world’s internally displaced persons, particularly against a backdrop of unfolding “megatrends” such as rapid urbanization, population growth and more prevalent natural disasters, a senior United Nations human rights expert told reporters at Headquarters today.

“Internal displacement remains one of the world’s most significant human rights and humanitarian challenges, as millions of people continue to be internally displaced every year”, said Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights of internally displaced persons, who will present his annual report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) tomorrow morning.

This year’s report would focus on protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, he said, adding that 2012 marked the twentieth anniversary of the creation of the mandate of the special rapporteur on the human rights of such persons, first issued by the then-Commission on Human Rights.

Over 26 million people were internally displaced at the end of 2011 due to armed conflicts, generalized violence or human rights violations, he said, while nearly 15 million were displaced due to sudden onset natural hazards. Those numbers were expected to increase due to new trends and emerging challenges, such as more frequent natural disasters resulting from the results of climate change, he added.

In that context, States should be ready to adopt comprehensive frameworks that addressed all types and stages of internal displacement, confronted new challenges and paid particular attention to prevention and durable solution strategies. He called on Governments to, among other things, adopt mechanisms for the successful resolution of conflicts, preparedness and early warning systems, and capacity-building measures to enhance the ability of all levels of Government and civil society to address the challenges faced by internally displaced persons.

In addition, he also called for mechanisms to facilitate the meaningful participation of internally displaced persons in decisions which had an impact on their lives.

Briefly describing his work over the course of his mandate, Mr. Beyani said that since his appointment in 2010, his various missions had included visits to the Maldives, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and Afghanistan. Among other countries, he planned to visit Azerbaijan, Georgia, Haiti and South Sudan over the next year.

He also responded to a number of questions from correspondents on specific country situations. With regard to Sri Lanka, he recalled that his predecessor, Walter Kälin, had recommended that the country close camps and resettle people in the North. While part of the mandate of the special rapporteur was to support the closure of camps, he said, such closure must be followed by durable solutions and the restoration of normalcy.

Indeed, “once camps are closed, it doesn’t mean that [internally displaced persons] become invisible”. Closure should be preceded by preparedness measures, and a balance should be struck between the various options for internally displaced persons – namely, return, reintegration and resettlement elsewhere.

Significant progress had been made since the end of the war in Sri Lanka, he said, but there was some uncertainty about the durability of the solutions that had been applied in the north of the country. He added that Sri Lanka was one of the countries he had in mind for the second phase of his mandate.

Asked about the case of Colombia, he said that country was “very high” on his list of priorities. He anticipated that he would be able to visit Colombia in the course of next year or the year after. Among other things, he was interested in the way the country’s “victim’s law” was working with regard to internally displaced persons, he said.

He was also asked about a particular incident in which an internally displaced persons’ camp in Côte d’Ivoire had been burned down, allegedly, because it was hosting supporters of former president Laurent Gbagbo. Mr. Beyani said he had strongly condemned that incident, and he added that there was an ongoing official investigation into the matter. He stressed that the attack on the camp had been planned and that the perpetrators had likely intended to “send a message”, both as a warning to former Gbagbo supporters and about not wanting internally displaced persons camps in their vicinity.

Further, he said that peacekeepers located at the camp during the incident had not acted with force, in part because more civilians might have been killed had they done so. Yet, the most important aspect of the situation - which would be investigated further - was the rules of engagement that prohibited peacekeepers from getting involved unless there was an armed military force present.

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