Nepal in Crisis 2005: Human Rights
Global IDP Project:
Internal displacement: A neglected human tragedy
Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2004
Publication Date: March 2005
Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2004: Summary
Internal displacement: A neglected human tragedy

Publication Date: March 2005

Internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable victims of conflict, and constitute arguably the largest at-risk population in the world. The abstract term "internal displacement", created to distinguish IDPs from refugees, fails to convey the immense human suffering most internally displaced people are forced to undergo. The act of displacement itself often is accompanied by violence and the most serious human rights violations such as arbitrary killings, torture, kidnappings and rape.

< Refugees at an IDP camp in Rajhena of Nepalgunj

Traumatised and fearing for their lives, every year millions of people, most of them women and children, are forced to leave behind their homes, land and other belongings to seek refuge in more secure areas.

While those who manage to flee across an internationally recognised border can claim protection and assistance under the 1951 refugee convention and can turn to the UN refugee agency UNHCR for help, no such system exists for internally displaced people.

IDPs remain largely dependent on their governments who have the primary responsibility to protect and assist them, but often lack the interest or means to do so.

Consequently, large numbers of IDPs remain at high risk of further violence, malnutrition and diseases, and many are forced to flee several times. Without access to employment, farmable land, social services or even informal support networks, many IDPs, in particular those living in camps, have to rely on humanitarian aid to survive.

< Bacchu Rokaya's children at an IDP camp in Rajhena of Nepalgunj
But large numbers of IDPs receive too little or no assistance at all.

The reasons are manifold: insecurity, natural barriers, lack of donor funds, coordination problems among aid agencies, corrupted or hostile authorities complicating access, or lack of information on the whereabouts and living conditions of IDPs living with host communities rather than in designated sites.

Internally Displaced Women

It is estimated that women and children comprise between 70 and 80 per cent of internally displaced populations forced to leave their homes owing to armed conflict or human rights violations. Yet national and international IDP policies and strategies still do not reflect this reality.

< Refugees in Nepal: Bacchu Rokaya and her son at an IDP camp in Rajhena of Nepalgunj
A critical gap in the international response remains the failure to collect disaggregated data, including registration, statistics and needs assessments, that reflect age and gender among IDP populations. This data is vital to ensure that the needs of women and children are appropriately addressed from the first stages of displacement displacement to the identification of durable solutions for return and reintegration or local integration.
Internally Displaced Children

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement specifically recognise that "children and unaccompanied minors'shall be entitled to protection and assistance required by their condition and to treatment which takes into account their special needs". Internally displaced children are among the most at risk of waraffected children. The process of displacement in itself puts in danger many of the human rights guaranteed to the child in international law.

Displacement frequently results in the breakdown of family and community structures, the disintegration of traditional and social norms, and an increase in female-headed households which places displaced children at greater risk of infringements of their physical integrity and psychosocial well-being, including death, abuse, malnutrition, poverty, discrimination and other human rights violations.

In protracted situations of displacement, internally displaced children may spend their entire childhood in camps or temporary shelters. Although they may survive the stage of displacement, internally displaced children encounter other threats to their well-being during the process of return and reintegration. For example, displaced children returning home after confl ict are regular victims of landmines.

< Refugees in Nepal: Bacchu Rokaya and her son at an IDP camp in Rajhena of Nepalgunj
Conflict-induced displacement often produces more vulnerable groups of children, such as unaccompanied children, children in detention, street children and child soldiers. For example, displaced boys and girls, particularly those who have been separated from parents and family, are more often targets of abduction and forcible recruitment by rebel groups and paramilitary or government forces.
Many former child soldiers also become displaced, due the potential dangers they may face upon return such as re-recruitment and punishment by family or opposing groups. In addition to military duties, both displaced boys and girls are vulnerable to rape, sexual exploitation and enslavement, but girls are principal targets.

Health and nutrition are the most important indicators to assess the well-being of a population as well as to measure the severity of the effects of war or natural disaster. While the vulnerability of IDPs is widely acknowledged, in most countries no surveys have been carried out to monitor and assess their nutritional and health status, not even in some of the most serious humanitarian emergencies such as Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, DRC, Indonesia (Aceh), Iraq or Nepal.

In Nepal, fighting resumed, accompanied by a sharp increase in human rights violations, after the breakdown of peace talks between the government and Maoist rebels in August 2003 ended a ceasefire agreed in early 2003. It is estimated that up to 200,000 people have been displaced since the conflict started in the mid-1990s.

The sharp deterioration of the general human rights situation in Nepal prompted a group of independent experts of the UN Commission on Human Rights to express their serious concern regarding the situation in the country in July 2004. In early 2004, it was reported that the government had started setting up civil defence groups, causing concern among human rights organisations that this initiative was likely to further polarise Nepalese society and increase the level of violence. Displaced women and children often faced particularly difficult conditions. Many children, traumatised by the violence and destruction they had witnessed, moved to urban or semi-urban areas with unhygienic living conditions and hostile environments. Some live on the street, without access to education and exposed to a variety of threats, including sexual exploitation and forms of child labour. Lack of employment opportunities in the urban areas has reportedly forced many displaced women to join the sex business, in particular in Kathmandu.

Similarly, the only international assistance welcomed by the Nepalese government was the provision of military equipment and training to its armed forces. The government has not developed any IDP-specific strategy and has only taken limited steps to acknowledge the displacement crisis caused by the fighting. Limited assistance has been provided to those displaced by the Maoists, but those displaced by the actions of the security forces were not recognised as IDPs, nor did they qualify for any assistance from the authorities. In October 2004, the government announced the creation of a relief package for IDPs, although most observers agree that it cannot be considered as an appropriate response to the problem of the displaced. The vast majority of aid agencies were implementing development programmes, without specifically addressing the emergency assistance needs of IDPs.

Facts Facts Year 2004
Fact 1 Major new displacement during 2004 Sudan, Uganda, Colombia, Iraq, Somalia, Nepal
Fact 2 Worst displacement situations Burma (Myanmar), Indonesia, Iraq, Nepal, Sudan, Uganda

Most often, however, displacement situations are linked to civil wars typically pitching one or more rebel groups, often with secessionist or revolutionary agendas, against the central government or militias backed by the authorities. This scenario characterises some of the worst displacement situations, including Sudan, Colombia, Uganda, Nepal and Burma (Myanmar).

Fact 3 New displacements in 2004 The outbreak or intensification of conflicts led to new displacements, in particular in Nepal, Indonesia (Aceh, Maluku), Pakistan, Burma (Myanmar) and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan and the Philippines.

No major new conflict leading to internal displacement erupted in 2004, but a number of ongoing civil wars continued or intensified during the course of the year. Sudan (Darfur and Upper Nile), Uganda, Iraq and Nepal are among the countries where the security situation deteriorated signifi cantly and hundreds of thousands of people were newly displaced in 2004.

Fact 4 Anti-rebel military campaigns Several governments continued or intensified anti-rebel military campaigns labelled "counter-terrorist" operations, which led to new displacements and prevented return, including in Chechnya (Russian Federation), Aceh (Indonesia), Colombia, northern Uganda and Nepal.
Fact 5 Hostility or indifference to IDP protection needs Countries where authorities reacted with hostility or indifference to IDP protection needs: among others Nepal
Fact 6 IDPs did not receive assistance Countries where IDPs did not receive assistance from national authorities:
Clearly, the protection situation was worst in those countries where the government itself was a main agent of displacement, as was the case for example in Sudan, Burma and Nepal.
Fact 7 Displaced children Displaced children also faced difficulty accessing education due to language barriers and acute shortages in teachers in some countries, including Iraq, Nepal and Uganda.
Fact 8 Recruitment and participation of children in armed conflict Though international law prohibits the recruitment and participation of children in armed conflict, these practices continued in numerous countries.
In 2004, countries where displaced children continued to be drawn into armed conflict by military groups included Burundi, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, DRC, Indonesia, Liberia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sudan and Uganda.
Forced recruitment continued also to be a signifi ant cause of displacement among children, including in Uganda, Burma (Myanmar), Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Refugees in Nepal: Bacchu Rokaya and her children at an IDP camp in Rajhena of Nepalgunj
Credit: Global IDP Project
Norwegian Refugee Council, Chemin de Balexert 7-9CH-1219 Châtelaine (Geneva), Switzerland