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Panel Discussions - Friday, May 07, 2010

What Role for Internally Displaced Persons in Peace Processes?

Parties and mediators should engage with internally displaced persons throughout the peace process, said Walter Kälin, the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, at an IPI policy forum on May 7th.

“We do not demand that internally displaced persons have to sit at the negotiating table during 'track I' peace negotiations,” Mr. Kälin said, but “peace agreements should define who is an internally displaced person, clearly stipulate that internally displaced persons have rights, and that the parties to the agreement have obligations to them.” Peace agreements should also clarify how these provisions on internal displacement are implemented, he said.

Mr. Kälin listed several obstacles for the integration of internal displacement in peace processes and peace agreements. Displaced persons often belong to marginalized groups, which are typically not well-educated, and therefore lack an audible voice in war-torn societies. In most conflicts, they constitute a very diverse group of people, which frequently includes members of ethnic communities pitted against each other. He also noted that some displaced persons often act as spoilers in peace processes.

This policy forum marked the publication of a new report, “Integrating Internal Displacement in Peace Processes and Agreements,” as part of the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement. This report was prepared in collaboration with the UN Department of Political Affairs, and it aims at providing practical guidance to mediators in the field.

The report discusses:
(1) why internal displacement matters for making and maintaining peace;
(2) how mediators can create a framework for integrating internal displacement in peace processes;
(3) how conflict parties and mediators can engage internally displaced persons throughout the peace process; and
(4) ways to integrate the human rights and interests of internally displaced persons in a peace agreement.

Ambassador Gyan Chandra Acharya of Nepal, who chaired the event, noted in his remarks that rehabilitation measures, such as the provision of housing and social services, should not only target internally displaced persons, but also other parts of the population, in order to create an atmosphere conducive for reconciliation. He identified land disputes as a potential obstacle to the return of displaced persons, and he described the need to restore the safety and security for returnees in the entire country. When internal displacement coincides with internal migration, the registration of internally displaced persons can become difficult. The ambassador also underlined the critical importance of providing internally displaced persons with opportunities to earn a livelihood.

Udo Janz, the director of the New York office of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), pointed out that in Bosnia and in other countries witnessing ethnic cleansing, displacement is not a side-effect, but rather the central objective in the armed conflict. He added that UNHCR is often in a unique position in that it maintains channels of communication to all parties. These links can be used to help integrate internal displacement in peace processes.

Teresa Whitfield, a senior adviser at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva and senior fellow at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, said in her remarks that time constraints and political pressures have frequently inhibited mediators’ engagement with internally displaced persons. She concluded that the critical impact of internal displacement on peacemaking processes has not always been fully appreciated by mediators in the field. Ms. Whitfield called for an operational partnership between mediators and humanitarian officials with expert knowledge on displaced groups, in order to ensure that their interests are taken into account in the peace process.

Ambassador Acharya concluded the event by saying that peace negotiations necessarily focus on the principal actors engaged in the fighting. However, mediators should help mitigate the gap between the conflict parties and those affected by the fighting, notably displaced persons.

The event was moderated by Dr. Edward C. Luck, IPI’s Senior Vice President for Research and Programs.

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