4.9.2012 - The media have frequently raised the prospect of a â€ślost generationâ€ť
appearing in Europe as a result of the economic crisis. However, a different
kind of â€ślost generationâ€ť has been struggling to cope in many European countries
as the result of past military-political crises. I have in mind Europeâ€™s
internally displaced persons (IDPs), some of whom have been facing extremely
difficult circumstances for decades. These victims of past or on-going
conflicts continue to need the help of the European and international community,
says Nils MuiĹľnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, in his
Human Rights Comment published today.
many IDPs in need of help
There are an
estimated 2.5-2.8 million IDPs in Council of Europe member states. The largest
number of IDPs, around 1 million, live in Turkey and are the victims of
armed conflict and violence
by state and non-state forces in areas inhabited mainly by the Kurdish minority.
Elsewhere in Europe, the vast majority of IDPs were displaced by conflicts when
the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia disintegrated more than two decades ago, and
more recently, as a result of the 2008 conflict in Georgia. Thus, Azerbaijan has
about 600 000 IDPs, Georgia â€“ 274 000, Serbia â€“ 225 000, Bosnia and Herzegovina
â€“ 113 000, with the remainder in other Balkan states, Armenia and Russia.
The plight of the typical
European IDP is dire
behind the numbers have been thrown out of their homes and remain in a state of
limbo, unable to return, utterly powerless, surviving, but not really existing.
About 390 000 or 15
percent of the total number of IDPs live in collective centres (which tend to be
located in vast disused buildings), makeshift shelters or informal settlements,
often without any security of tenure or access to basic services. In addition to
substandard housing, IDPs are often destitute with limited access to health
services, education, or employment. Many are traumatised and remain vulnerable
to violence and abuse. Most cannot return to their places of origin because the
underlying conflict which led to their flight has not been resolved. Those who
try to return are faced with a real threat of persecution.
Signs of hope
In a hopeful development, an international donorsâ€™ conference took place in
Sarajevo in April 2012 to muster financial support for the housing needs of 74
000 of the most vulnerable IDPs in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and
Montenegro. If the funds promised are allocated and well-spent, this could mark
the end of a long, painful chapter for many IDPs in the region. Georgia, too,
has achieved some progress in addressing the situation of IDPs, particularly in
the realm of housing, thanks to the elaboration of national policies and the
allocation of significant resources, including international assistance.
IDPs have rights
As the Committee of Ministersâ€™
on internally displaced persons has underlined,
entitled to enjoy the entire spectrum of human rights, without discrimination.
Numerous international instruments, notably the
UN Guiding Principles on
assert in particular the right of IDPs to return to their homes (if they still
exist) in safety and dignity on a voluntary basis and/or to receive reparation.
These rights have been
recognised in a number of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (e.g.
Loizidou v. Turkey 1996, Khamidov v. Russia 2007, and
Saghinadze and Others v. Georgia 2010). More often, however, their best hope
is for integration into their new places of residence or resettlement elsewhere.
protection of IDPs is primarily the responsibility of national authorities.
However, IDPs often find themselves in situations where national authorities do
not or cannot enforce protection measures. This may be due to a lack of
authority in conflict areas which are not under government control, a lack of
will, a lack of an institutional framework, or a lack of means. The problems of
IDPs should not be politically instrumentalised and the protection of their
rights should prevail.
The international community, particularly UNHCR and the UN Secretary Generalâ€™s
Special Representative on IDPs, has often played a critical role in providing
Various Council of Europe bodies have also monitored the human rights of IDPs,
as well as developed standards for improving their situation.
What needs to be
The particular situation of IDPs requires a response by states that addresses
all aspects of displacement in a timely and effective manner. While
international assistance is essential, national efforts must also be more
systematic and vigorous. On 5 July 2012 the UN Human Rights Council adopted an
important resolution on the Human Rights of IDPs in which UN member states
recognised their own role in promoting and protecting the human rights of IDPs.
There is an
urgent need to fill the gaps in the protection of IDPs. States should take
measures to prevent internal displacement. They should improve the quality of
their response to the situation of IDPs and respect their obligation to ensure
access to humanitarian aid, where the states themselves are unable to provide
It is imperative
to develop durable and sustainable solutions to displacement.
States and all
relevant parties should adopt measures for the return and re-integration of IDPs
in their original communities. The precarious situation of the IDPs should not
be protracted. Where return is not possible or presents risks for the IDPs,
other remedial measures should be provided, without discrimination. Particular
attention should be paid to the most vulnerable such as the disabled, the
elderly, children and women.
In such cases
states should take adequate measures to ensure the integration of IDPs in their
new communities. States should ensure, in collaboration with international
actors, where needed, that IDPs are consulted and participate as partners in the
planning and implementation of return or of any other remedial actions.
When discussing the current economic crisis and its many victims, we cannot
forget victims of older crises and on-going conflicts, the IDPs. They too must
benefit from the attention and active support of European states to implement
their human rights and live in dignity. We cannot let their plight persist, or
Europe will be losing not just one generation, but several.
Press contact in the Commissionerâ€™s Office:
+ 33 (0)6 61 14 70 37;