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Sri Lanka Army

Defenders of the Nation

30th August 2018 14:49:40 Hours

“Even when International Humanitarian Law is Respected Duringa Conflict, Displacement Occurs” -ICRC Delegate

The second speaker in the Session 1, themed ‘Demographic Transformation and Implications on Security’ at the ‘Colombo Defence Seminar - 2018’now underway at the BMICH in Colombo, Ms Eva Svoboda, Deputy Director of International Law and Policy,ICRC, Switzerland stated that even when international humanitarian law is respected during a conflict, displacement occurs, and legal and policy frameworks concerning displacement hence need to be developed and implemented.

Following is the full text of her speech to the sessions;

This year, we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the UN Guiding principles on internal displacement that provide rights-based guidance on preventing, responding to and addressing internal displacement. This anniversary gives us the opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved and what still needs to be achieved. It is clear that concrete commitment and action by States affected by displacement, donors, humanitarian organizations and development actors are needed to address internal displacement more effectively.

By the end of 2017, some 40 million people were internally displaced by armed conflict and violence (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre/IDMC).

Another 19 million people were displaced by disasters in 2017, most often weather-related hazards, including some 135,000 in Sri Lanka, who were temporarily displaced (IDMC).

These figures show that we remain unable to prevent new displacement and to solve current displacement, as millions of people displaced by war and violence are displaced for extended periods of time, sometimes because conflicts last for years, but also because there might be obstaclesto local integration or return.

We certainly do not have all the answers, but internal displacement is a reality that the ICRC knows too well, as we have been working with internally displaced people and host communities around the world for decades.Displaced people are among the most vulnerable civilians. They often find themselves in precarious conditions, with no or limited protection, and insufficient access to basic good and essential services.

A few words on preventing the emergence of conditions that lead to displacement.For displacement induced by disasters, disaster risk reduction can play a pivotal role, but I will not explore this.

Let’s take a step back: why are people displaced by armed conflict and violence? Some flee before being directly exposed to the conflict, sometimes to be spared from the violence, sometimes because of the disruptive effects of conflicts and violence on essential services, the economy and livelihoods. Some send their families away to safety and stay behind to look after their assets or keep working.

Even when international humanitarian law is respected during a conflict, displacement occurs. Yet, violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) can cause greater displacement, as civilians may be targeted directly by parties to the conflict or parties to a conflict may carry out indiscriminate attacks forcing people to flee. People may also flee because they are threatened, subject to forced recruitment, collective punishment, or other violations such as sexual violence. Others may leave because they lose access to essential goods and services, as hospitals, water plants or schools are targeted.

The most effective way to prevent displacement induced by war and violence is obviously through armed conflict and violence prevention. When conflicts do occur, respect for IHL can help reducing the scale of displacement. Forced displacement is prohibited under IHL, and parties to a conflict must strive to limit the effects of their operations on civilians, which can contribute to limiting displacement.

Outside of armed conflict, in other situations of violence, respect for human rights can also help limiting displacement.

Better respect for IHL and IHRL is also relevant to ensure the protection of those displaced. It can ensure their safety and access to assistance. It canalso help preventing secondary displacement. Every episode of displacement increases the vulnerability of people, as they lose more assets, their networks, their livelihoods.

Displacement creates needs for IDPs (internally displaced persons) and host communities. Unfortunately, the humanitarian response tends to fall short of meeting these needs. Many are left to fend for themselves, facing progressive destitution, sometimes having to resort to harmful coping mechanisms, such as sending children to beg in the streets, engaging in transactional sex, joining a criminal gang or an armed group.

The response fails to meet people’s needs in part because of the scale of needs and the difficulty of reaching people in remote areas or in areas affected by conflict and violence, but also because States may not be able or willing to respond adequately, due to a lack of means or capacity. They may also lack an appropriate legal and policy framework or adequate structures. In that regard, the inclusion of a section on IDPs and refugees in Sri Lanka’s National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights is welcomed. Finally, humanitarian organizations may lack resources, may not coordinate operations appropriately or fail to reflect on longer-term solutions.

Displaced persons often remain displaced for long periods of time. This is linked to the duration and chronic nature of many armed conflicts and to lasting violence, but not only. The solution to displacement is not always return to people’s place of origin. In that regard, protracted displacement also speaks of the failure to help displaced persons integrate locally through adapted support. The lack of solutions may also result from a failure to anchor IDPs’ return or local integration into broader development and peace-building programmes. Creative thinking is critical to address displacement.And a more effective interface ensuring coherence and complementarity between humanitarian and development actors is key.

What do we do? The ICRC intervenes in the different phases of displacement, from pre-displacement to return. Wherever possible, we seek to prevent displacement from occurring by reducing some of its causes. In armed conflicts, where IHL violations are often a cause of displacement, we promote greater respect for IHL by all parties through protection dialogue, training and other activities. Assisting communities by restoring essential services disrupted by the conflict can also help people avoid displacement if they wish so.

We usually focus our interventions on IDPs outside camps or hard to reach because of our comparative advantage in terms of access and our ability to work with both displaced and resident/host communities to address specific needs and vulnerabilities.

We support States with the development and implementation of legal and policy framework for IDPs.

Why is this important? Internal displacement is increasingly urban, in part because cities are the theatre of armed conflict and violence, but also because people flee from rural to urban areas, reflecting global urbanisation trends. Think of Mosul, Maiduguri, Juba.

But little is known about people’s experience of displacement in urban settings and outside camps. And, despite humanitarian organisations’ efforts to develop better responses in urban settings, important improvements are still required to address the needs of IDP. In light of this, we have just completed a study on urban internal displacement that will be launched in a few weeks.

In a few words,people flee to cities hoping to find safety, but also access to services, livelihoods, social networks and support from relatives and friends, and, eventually, humanitarian assistance. Arriving in cities, most prefer to settle outside camps, hosted by the community, renting accommodation, or in self-made shelters. They receive limited support and struggle to meet their basic needs, secure adequate housing and find a reliable livelihood. With relatively little assistance many would be able to resume an income-generating activity and regain autonomy, although their efforts to normalize their situation are often obstructed by insecurity and the social, legal and political environment.

For host families and communities who often show great solidarity in receiving displaced persons, displacement evolves into a burden when it becomes prolonged and support from the government or humanitarian organizations is minimal or non-existent.

In recent years, efforts have been made to develop better urban responses. Yet, the typical humanitarian response to urban displacement is still inadequate for those outside camps. The response can be described through three key features: a focus on formal and informal camps – and this, despite the fact that a large number of people do not settle in camps – a gap in both the emergency response and the longer term response, and an over reliance on blanket responses, which means that IDPs’ specific needs might remain unaddressed.

Shortcomings in the humanitarian response are often attributed to the scale and complexity of cities and to humanitarian actors’ limited urban expertise. Limitations also result from the rigidity of planning and funding schemes, funding gaps, political interests and the dearth of reliable data. They also result from the fact that the response is commonly built on unverified assumptions such as the idea that IDPs in urban settings outside camps are harder to identify and that they are better off than those living in camps or that urban IDPs face the same problems as the urban poor or that they are difficult to identify.

To improve the response, we need to better understand the situation of IDPs in cities and the impact that their displacement has on host communities, and to address both by engaging at different levels, city, neighbourhoods, households and individuals – through structural interventions and tailored responses. We need to test new approaches, innovate. We also need to ensure that the priorities and concerns of affected populations are better reflected in the response. We must better articulate short and long-term interventions by approaching emergency support and resilience building simultaneously from the beginning of displacement rather than as sequential times of the response. And we need to ensure complementary and coordinated efforts by humanitarian and development organizations in support to the authorities and other central and municipal actors.

Cracking the urban challenge is essential, as the world will continue to urbanise and we have to become better at responding in urban environments.

There are specific challenges related to preserving the humanitarian and civilian character of IDP sites that will be of interest to you, as these are often faced by peacekeeping troops. Over the years, Sri Lankan troops deployed to peacekeeping missions have served in several countries affected by displacement. In such situations, camps are often part of the landscape.

When people are displaced by armed conflict, flows may include combatants. Some may infiltrate IDP camps. This can lead to direct attacks on camps, to forced recruitment and sexual violence within the camps, or to diversion of humanitarian aid and access problems. Most of us recall the infamous camps in Eastern DRC that became militarized, were used as bases to launch attacks and were cleared by the Rwandan army – these were not IDP camps but refugee camps, but the challenges created by such situations are similar.

IDP sites should be places where people can be assisted and safe and their civilian and humanitarian character should be preserved.

Parties to the conflict must take all feasible precautions to avoid, or at least minimize, harm to civilians living in sites and damage to sites or civilian objects located within the sites. Parties to the conflict must also take all feasible precautions to protect sites under their control against the effects of attacks, notably by avoiding locating military objectives inside or in the vicinity of the sites. This means that military troops, including peacekeeping troops, should remain outside of camps and sites, to avoid turning them into military objectives. Preventing combatants from entering a site is also essential in that regard.

Now, this is easier said than done, as it entails screening and separating combatants from civilians. This requires a comprehensive approach that builds upon relevant legal frameworks (IHL, IHRL and refugee law); cooperation among humanitarian actors and with other concerned actors to maximise protection; and the integration of the perspectives of displaced people and host communities on what they consider a threat.

Over the last year, we have reflected with UNHCR on addressing these challenges. We involved the Department of Peacekeeping operations in the process, as peacekeepers can play an important role, particularly when they have a protection for civilian mandate.We recently published operational guidance for humanitarian actors, but it can also be useful for other actors.

States face real challenges in preventing, responding and addressing internal displacement. In many countries, legal and policy frameworks need to be developed and implemented. This is a first step in ensuring a consistent, coherent, predictable response to displacement. States affected by displacement often have to deal with competing priorities, with limited resources or capacity.

Respect for IHL can contribute to reducing the scale of displacement and ensure the protection of those displaced. The militaries have a vital role in ensuring that their members respect IHL and prosecute those that violate it.

Balancing security considerations and humanitarian considerations can be a real challenge. In several places, displaced persons coming from specific areas are seen as security threats. They are sometimes confined to camps, kept in isolated areas. They might be suspected of sympathies to a party to the conflict, their family members might have been combatants and among displaced persons, there might be active combatants. Still, displaced persons in general should not be treated as a security threat and isolated in the name of security. This might create real and lasting tensions and resentment within societies. It might also force IDPs to resort to harmful coping mechanisms.

The ICRC tries to help affected people and also stands ready to assist States in their efforts to support affected populations.