The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement define internally displaced persons (IDPs) as “persons or group of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situation of generalized violence, violation of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed internationally recognized state border.” This notion is meant to be descriptive rather than normative: IDPs remain citizens or habitual residents of their country and are entitled to protection and assistance on that basis alone. From the perspective of international law, and unlike in refugee law, displacement is a factual state and there is nothing like an “IDP status”.

Why a focus on law and policy?

Governments have the primary responsibility in providing protection and assistance to IDPs without discrimination. Developing a national instrument on internal displacement, whether a law or a policy, is essentially an exercise of sovereignty, and as such is a particularly important reflection of national responsibility as well as a vehicle for its fulfilment.

States have international, and in some cases regional, obligations to protect and assist IDPs. IDPs are protected by international human rights law and, in times of armed conflict, by international humanitarian law. Several regional bodies, including the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Council of Europe (CoE), urge their member states to develop national policies on internal displacement. In Africa, the 2006 Great Lakes Protocol and the 2009 Kampala Convention make it mandatory for member states that ratified those instruments to develop national legal frameworks.

Moreover, a national instrument that is based on or fully incorporates the Guiding Principles and is tailored to a country’s displacement situation can improve efforts to protect and assist IDPs. If properly implemented, a coherent national instrument that clearly allocates responsibilities within the government can serve as a foundation for effective cooperation and coordination between all the relevant parties.

Authorities in several countries have already developed domestic normative standards on the protection and assistance of IDPs (for further information, please refer to our DATABASE on law and policies on internal displacement). However, states themselves have identified a significant need for technical support and expertise around law and policy-making processes on internal displacement. It is to support states’ efforts in this direction that the Global Protection Cluster (GPC) Task Team on Law and Policy (TTLP) was created in 2015. Co-chaired by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, it brings together traditional and new GPC partners with specific expertise on the subject (for more information on the activities of the Task Team, please read its Terms of Reference and refer here for contact details).

The Global Protection Cluster (GPC)’s Task Team on Law and Policy conducted a mapping exercise to capture up-to-date information on countries with IDP laws and policies. Read More

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