Press Conference

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

Press Conference by Representative of Secretary-General on Human Rights of

 

Internally Displaced Persons

 


Prevailing economic and political pressures in Haiti and Iraq were compounding the already enormous difficulties faced by internally displaced persons and more must be done by those Governments — and the United Nations — to ensure their most basic protection needs were being met, Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, said today at a Headquarters press briefing.


Briefing journalists first on his visit to Haiti last week, Mr. Kälin said he found a difficult situation that had added to a pre-existing humanitarian crisis.  That had been laid bare by the fact that camps for internally displaced persons were attracting poor people not directly impacted by the January earthquake, despite the fact that camp conditions were not up to international standards.


That situation had created a host of challenges for humanitarian actors, charged with meeting peoples’ needs, on one hand, but with making the camps attractive to non-displaced people on the other.  It would be important for health, water and other services to be provided to affected neighbourhoods, so the camps could focus specifically on meeting displaced persons’ needs.


Protection challenges included gender-based violence, he said.  The United Nations Police was patrolling about 40 per cent of 1,300 sites.  “That’s certainly progress,” he said.  People had reported feeling more secure and the number of violent incidents had fallen.  However, 40 per cent coverage was not sufficient and more must be done to provide police protection and assistance to survivors.


Evictions were also a problem, he explained.  Many camps were on private land, which owners needed in order to re-open schools, for example.  The Government had not declared a moratorium on evictions and he had advised that evictions be carried out in line with human rights standards — including the right to consultation — and that no evictions take place without providing an acceptable housing alternative.  He also had called on the Government to adopt a housing recovery policy, outlining guidance for the many actors in that area, and to assume more responsibility for protecting internally displaced persons.  Impunity was a huge problem and cases required follow-up.


Turning to Iraq, he said the humanitarian situation, while stable, featured a problem in Baghdad with people squatting on public land, for whom the authorities would not allow humanitarian assistance to be provided.  According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, about half were registered internally displaced persons; another 25 per cent had been unable to register.  These people were living on the fringes of society and had no place to return, making land allocation a “must”.


He said the Government had not devised a durable solution and, until now, had been hesitant to address the allocation issue.  He had been encouraged by news that the Ministry of Displacement and Migration was outlining a strategy to address their needs.  Moreover, the Baghdad Governor had committed to allocating land for those living on squatter sites, while the Prime Minister had been specific on how he would work with Office of the High Commissioner, among others, to incorporate them into society.  However, with a transitional Government in place, it would be hard to do more than execute projects on a limited basis.


Asked about the situation in the Abu Shouk and Kalma camps in Darfur, he said it would be difficult to comment because he had not been granted access to those camps by the Sudanese Government.  It was clear, however, that internally displaced persons were citizens who had the right to assemble and to express themselves.  Sanctioning such people for exercising those rights would not be acceptable.  Peace, especially in Darfur, could not be sustained when such large numbers of people were living in misery and poverty.  Also, the voices of internally displaced persons must be heard in peace processes.  They had been invited to the Doha negotiations, which had caused problems at home.


Responding to a request to comment on the idea of splitting the Kalma camp, he said it would be difficult to find a basis for that in international human rights law.  The motive for such a split was important and he could not comment on that.


As for his follow-up on the situation in Sri Lanka, he said he had been there twice, working mainly on the issue of the closed camps.  As to the fate of those considered by the Government as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters or involved in other violence, it was a basic principle that displaced person camps should be of a civilian character.  It was a basic principle to separate combatants or fighters from the civilian population.  That did not mean those people were no longer protected by human rights.  On the contrary, their protection was extremely important, but those issues were outside his mandate.


Mr. Kälin presented the annual report on the protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) yesterday.  It was his final report to the Committee in his current capacity.  (See Press Release GA/SHC/3985)


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