Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rethinking Nepal’s IDP Policy with Reference to UN Guiding Principles

Nir Prasad Dahal
[Research Analyst, Eureka Research, Kabul, Afghanistan]

UN Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

Internal displacement, or forced migration of people within their own countries, is today a common international phenomenon. According to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, ‘in more than 50 countries and practically in every world region, more than 25 million people are actually considered as displaced people just as a result of violent conflicts and human rights violations.’ This number would increase by several million when those who have been uprooted by natural or manmade causes are included (HRWF, 2005).

Internal displacement – and in particular conflict-induced internal displacement – is emerging worldwide as a burning problem. Estimates of the number of IDPs are said to be controversial due to debates over definitions as well as methodological and practical problems in counting, but it is widely held that because of new forms of conflict, among other reasons, estimates of IDPs are now greater than those associated with refugees (i.e., forced migrants who cross national borders). A clear understanding of the causes of and most effective responses to displacement and forced migration has become all the more crucial in this century when incidences of war, violence and cruelty cause the internal displacement of large numbers of citizens, along with human trafficking and other violations of human rights that involve the internally displaced.

To address the issues of IDPs, the Representative of the UN Secretary General on IDPs in 1998 presented to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights a set of Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The Commission, in a unanimously adopted resolution, took note of these principles (for the full text cf. Chimni, 2000, among other sources). The Guiding Principles on Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs) includes 30 principles to address the problems of IDPs divided into five sections: General Principles, Principles Relating to Protection from Displacement, Principles Relating to Protection during Displacement, Principles Relating to Humanitarian Assistance, and Principles Relating to Return, Resettlement and Reintegration. In particular, Principle 15 mentions the following four basic rights of IDPs:

a. The right to seek safety in another part of the country
b. The right to leave their country
c. The right to seek asylum in another country
d. The right to be protected against forcible return to or resettlement in any place where their life, safety, liberty and/or health would be at risk.

Similarly, Section Four of the Guiding Principles includes those relating to humanitarian assistance (Principles 24-27). These principles state that humanitarian assistance should be provided to the IDPs in accordance with the principles of humanity and impartiality and without discrimination, and that this assistance should not be diverted for political or military reasons. The government is primarily responsible for providing humanitarian assistance to the IDPs; however, international humanitarian organizations and other appropriate actors also have the right to offer their services in support of the IDPs. The principles further state that persons engaged in humanitarian assistance, their transport, and supplies should be protected from attacks and other acts of violence. In turn, humanitarian organizations and actors are required to respect relevant international standards and codes of conduct.

The Guiding Principles are soft laws and they are not legally binding, but the 30 recommendations – which define who IDPs are, outline a large body of international law already in existence protecting a person’s basic rights, and the responsibility of states – were designed to help governments and humanitarian organizations in working with the displaced.

The IDP Situation in Nepal

Conflict-induced displacement is a relatively new phenomenon in Nepal. This form of displacement started in 1996 when the internal armed conflict between the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) and the Government of Nepal began. One estimate states that 12,865 people lost their lives in Nepal during these years due to the conflict between the Maoists and the government of Nepal (INSEC, 2006). Moreover, reports from various organizations over the last few years have quoted IDP figures that range from approximately 37,000 all the way to 400,000 – and these figures exclude those who may have crossed the border into India (SAFHR, 2005). The Inter-Agency Internal Displacement Division (IDD) Mission to Nepal reported that the most reliable estimate of IDPs in Nepal who were internally displaced by the conflict should be upwards to 200,000 (cited in Aditya et al., 2006).

It is well-recognized that displaced people are highly vulnerable. They often suffer from discrimination, experience significant deprivation, and are frequently impoverished. The UN expert on IDPs mentioned in his mission report that human rights problems and violations faced by IDPs in Nepal are related to a number of factors, including poor security and protection; discrimination; inadequate food, shelter, health care or access to education for children; a lack of personal and property identification documents; and gender-based violence, sexual abuse and increased domestic violence (

The impact of displacement in Nepal is also said to be unevenly distributed between men, women and children. Many recorded incidents have revealed that many children have been forced to associate with armed forces and armed groups as members of militia, porters, kitchen helpers, messengers/postmen and spies. According to Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN)(, around 40,000 children were displaced in Nepal due to the armed conflict. During this period (1996-2006) 419innocent children are said to have lost their lives; 454 were physically injured; a total of 29,244 children along with teachers have been ‘abducted’, while 230 children are said to have been arrested by the state security forces; 150 children are reported to have been exploited in the worst forms of child labour; and 224 children are said to be facing health problems after being displaced due to armed conflict. In addition, the youth were reported to have left home due to the threat of forced recruitment into the militia. Most of the youth are said to have stayed in the city centre, although some were reported to have fled to India and Gulf countries to seek employment. According to one report by Save the Children Norway, about 10,000 young people under the age of 14-18 crossed the border during the months of July and August 2004 alone. There is no doubt that forced migration has had a significant and deleterious effect on large numbers of children in Nepal.

After Nepal’s political change (Jana Andolan II) in 2006, a new paradigm for conflict and displacement emerged. Top level negotiations between the government and the Maoists were initiated and the two sides reached an agreement to end the insurgency. The Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) was signed on November 21, 2006. The former rebel party – the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) – is now part of the political mainstream, and it has formally committed itself to facilitating the IDPs’ return process, without any political prejudice, through the Comprehensive Peace Accord. Following the agreement that created the CPA, the return process gained momentum and the Government of Nepal (GoN) adopted an IDP National Policy in 2063 BS (2007) to assist IDP returnees.

However, the way in which the IDP National Policy has been implemented to date is still very problematic. The legal identity of every IDP and the integrated rehabilitation programs have not been specified yet. Moreover, displaced persons fear to go back to their place of origin without any guarantee of life or the ability to make a living. According to various sources, up to 70,000 IDPs do not want to return to their native areas due to fears about security and discrimination as well as housing, land and property restitution. This is a problem because IDP National Policy only provides support to those IDPs who are willing to return. This is also not helped by the fact that the IDPs who have already returned to their place of origin are also struggling to integrate (IDMC_NRC, 2010).

In sum, IDPs in Nepal are highly vulnerable and need much greater support in order to return and reintegrate. There is a need to address the problems of IDPs and make a separate mechanism and specific law with an effective system of implementation to provide the protection and care that IDPs in Nepal will require in order to meet even their basic needs.

For this, the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement can serve as a guide. The Guiding Principles can serve as an important part of the process of re-conceptualizing, and understanding in much greater depth, the IDPs’ situation and concerns in Nepal. This is particularly important in this critical phase of the ‘post-conflict’ reweaving of the social fabric and the reestablishing of community ties throughout the country.


Aditya, Anand, Bishnu Raj Upreti, and Poorna Kanta Adhikary, 2006, Countries in Conflict and Processing of Peace: Lessons for Nepal, Kathmandu: Friends for Peace (FFP).
Chimni, B. S., 2000, International Refugee Law: A Reader, New Delhi/Thousand Oaks/London: Sage Publications.
Human Rights without Frontiers Int. (HRWF), 2005, Internally Displaced Persons in Nepal: The Forgotten Victims of the Conflict, Bruxelles: HRWF.
IDMC_NRC, 2010, Nepal: Failed Implementation of IDP policy leaves many assisted, Geneva: IDMC.
Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), 2006, INSEC Annual Report 2006, Kathmandu: INSEC.
Ministry of Home, A National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) 2063 (2007), Kathmandu: Ministry of Home, Government of Nepal.

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