Putting IDPs on the map: achievements and challenges

December 2006

After twelve years as Co-Director of the Project on Internal Displacement at the Brookings Institution, Roberta Cohen retired at the end of 2006. This special issue not only commemorates Roberta’s work but also takes stock. The articles explore lessons learned from trying to apply the Guiding Principles, the implications of institutional changes for the protection of IDPs and opportunities and challenges for putting the protection of IDPs into practice. The authors remind us how much progress has been made and the importance of Roberta’s contribution. However, they also warn us how much remains to be done.

Contents

Francis Deng and Walter Kälin

After twelve years as Co-Director of the Project on Internal Displacement at the Brookings Institution, Roberta Cohen retires at the end of 2006.

Francis M Deng

Although I have received generous praise over the years for my efforts on behalf of the world’s internally displaced persons as representative of the UN Secretary-General on the issue, I say, without hesitation, that without Roberta Cohen I could not have done what I did.

Walter Kälin

The creation of the mandate of the Representative of the Secretary General on Internal Displacement in 1992 and the adoption of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in 1998 would not have happened without Roberta Cohen’s vision, dedication and persistence.

Petter F Wille

The issue of internally displaced persons is highly sensitive, with potential to trigger deep divisions among states. And yet controversy has been minimised. How has this been possible?

Dennis McNamara

In 1998, in their groundbreaking book Masses in Flight, Roberta Cohen and Francis Deng noted the weakness of inter-agency coordination, lack of clear institutional responsibility for IDPs and uneven response to their needs. Has anything changed?

Erika Feller

Roberta Cohen has encouraged, cajoled and even shamed the UN into assuming a more effective role to protect IDPs. Throughout two decades of tireless advocacy she has consistently argued that UNHCR should be more engaged in IDP protection. Her hopes are now being realised.

Reviews of humanitarian response have highlighted protection capacity as a major gap. A particular challenge has been rapid deployment of experienced protection staff to support the UN protection response for IDPs and other vulnerable groups in emergencies and complex crises. 

Dale Buscher and Carolyn Makinson

The regions of the world characterised by conflict and displacement have relatively high fertility rates and young populations. Women and children thus constitute around 80% of IDP populations. Their specific protection cannot be met without provision of key services.

Elisabeth Rasmusson

Information on the number, locations and demographic characteristics of IDPs is scarce and chronically unreliable. Lack of information is a key impediment to a more effective response to internal displacement crises.

Paula Banerjee

South Asia is one of the most conflict-prone regions in the world and internal displacement is a fact of life. Governments have been loath to acknowledge IDP issues but is change afoot?

Jeevan Thiagarajah

The Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies is a non-profit agency representing those working  in the humanitarian sector in Sri Lanka. Our work on internal displacement, the knowledge we have gained and the capacity we have developed owe much to collaboration with Roberta Cohen and her Brookings colleagues.

Manuel José Cepeda-Espinosa

In 2004 Colombia’s highest court declared that the inhumane living conditions of the country’s IDPs were ‘unconstitutional’ and ordered the authorities to take action. Colombia has, arguably, the world’s most progressive IDP legislation, but can the state guarantee IDPs their constitutional rights?

Zachary A Lomo

Roberta and I differ on both substantive issues and methodological approaches to the protection of IDPs. The key problem facing IDPs in Africa’s Great Lakes is not lack of regional mechanisms but the absence of strong national protection systems.

Michael M Cernea

The single most important idea promoted by the project which Roberta Cohen has co-directed is the concept of sovereignty as responsibility. This provides a theoretical and legal platform for supporting all those displaced within their own countries – including those displaced by development projects.

Susan Martin

In 1989 Roberta Cohen challenged scholars, policymakers and practitioners who focused exclusively on refugees – people who had crossed an international border – to rethink their approach. She has continued to identify research questions intersecting the interests of the two communities.

Thomas G Weiss

It is thanks in great part to the Project on Internal Displacement  and the determination of Roberta Cohen that IDPs are now firmly on the international humanitarian agenda. 

Elizabeth Ferris

It is a daunting task to follow in the footsteps of Roberta Cohen as the new co-director of the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement

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