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Internally displaced persons (IDPs) normative standards

There are no specific international legal instruments covering internally displaced persons (IDPs), and general agreements such as the Geneva Conventions are often difficult to apply. Donors are sometimes reluctant to intervene in internal conflicts or to offer sustained assistance.

The overall number of IDPs has remained relatively stable at around 25 million since the beginning of the new millennium. However, by 2007, UNHCR was caring for 12.8 million IDPs in 24 countries, or double the number just one year earlier. There are three main reasons for this sharp increase: new waves of internal displacement in several countries – notably Colombia, Iraq, Lebanon, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste; the development of UNHCR’s activities in connection with its new responsibilities under the cluster approach; and the upward revision of IDP figures in countries such as Colombia (now 3 million) and Côte d’Ivoire (where the number of IDPs was raised from 38,000 in 2006 to 621,000 in 2009 in the light of a new, more detailed survey of the situation).

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement are a set of 30 recommendations, which define who IDPs are, outline the large body of existing international law protecting people’s basic rights, and describe the responsibility of states. Although not legally binding, they constitute a comprehensive minimum standard for the treatment of IDPs and are being applied by a growing number of states and institutions. They may also help empower IDPs themselves by providing them with information about their rights as citizens of their own country.

Since the publication of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in 1998, and following their comprehensive dissemination, a small but growing number of national governments have begun to express their commitment to addressing internal displacement, protecting the rights of the internally displaced, and implementing the Guiding Principles through national legislation and policy. To see these national laws and policies visit the Brooking-Bern  project on IDPs INDEX