Responsibility to Protect

THE protection of internally displaced persons is basically about promoting respect of the rights of a group of civilians, mostly women and children who have lost their homes, been separated from their families and placed in a very vulnerable situation.

Ten months since the snag in the formal signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain and ten months, since the government launched its pursuit against rogue MILF commanders for their alleged attacks on civilians in North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte and Saranggani, the number of IDPs have reached more than 600,000.

According to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre  (IDMC)  April 2009 report, Mindanao’s IDPs was “the biggest new displacement in the world” out of 4.2 million newly displaced in 2008.  It is higher than the “massive new displacements” in Sudan (550,000), Kenya (500,000), Democratic Republic of Congo (at least 400,000), Iraq (360,000), Pakistan (over 310,000), Somalia (300,000), Colombia (270,000 to June 2008), Sri Lanka (230,000) and India (over
220,000).

THE protection of internally displaced persons is basically about promoting respect of the rights of a group of civilians, mostly women and children who have lost their homes, been separated from their families and placed in a very vulnerable situation.

Ten months since the snag in the formal signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain and ten months, since the government launched its pursuit against rogue MILF commanders for their alleged attacks on civilians in North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte and Saranggani, the number of IDPs have reached more than 600,000.

According to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre  (IDMC)  April 2009 report, Mindanao’s IDPs was “the biggest new displacement in the world” out of 4.2 million newly displaced in 2008.  It is higher than the “massive new displacements” in Sudan (550,000), Kenya (500,000), Democratic Republic of Congo (at least 400,000), Iraq (360,000), Pakistan (over 310,000), Somalia (300,000), Colombia (270,000 to June 2008), Sri Lanka (230,000) and India (over
220,000).

The figures only include people displaced as a result of the August 2008 upsurge in fighting between the MILF and the government.  Latest report from the NDCC (May 18, 2009) showed a cumulative total of 703, 949 bakwits in evacuation centers.

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were introduced in 1998 as a legal framework that defines their rights and the obligations of governments, non-state actors and the international community towards this group.

The Guiding Principles address the different phases of displacement, i.e. the right of civilians to be protected from armed conflicts, the rights of people after being displaced and the rights and duties of relevant actors during the return phase.

As human rights violations in conflict areas increase, the ability of people to inform and be informed on their condition spells their ability to effectively respond to their situation and protect their rights.  Even in situations of conflict, internally displaced persons have rights.  While they need help in terms of immediate assistance, there is also a need to make government and other actors respect their right for protection.

The process to engage with the internally displaced persons themselves, and to hear from humanitarian groups and government peace movers is a step toward taking a more comprehensive take and understanding on the existing condition of IDPs. This is based on the conviction that an updated and reliable information can make a major contribution towards the protection and assistance to the internally displaced. By making information on IDPs available, awareness of the IDP issue is heightened.

There is lot of work to be done in improving reporting on human rights in conflict situations.  As a baseline, it will require background knowledge on basic human rights principles and international humanitarian law but the greatest challenge is on how the information is shared to various movers.

While many would agree that the political dimension of humanitarian information should not be ignored. The fact remains that most of these situations seldom reach the headlines. In fact, only about one-third of these are considered “complex emergencies” by governments and even international bodies like the UN.

Radzini Oledan is Knowledge Officer of the Knowledge Management and Communications Program of the Initiatives for International Dialogue

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