On-site visits key to assessing plight of internally displaced, UN rights body told

On-site visits key to assessing plight of internally displaced, UN rights body told

A United Nations expert on internally displaced persons said today that country visits were "critical" to his work, and urged the Organization to find a way of engaging those governmental authorities who refuse visits by UN investigators to change their minds.

Addressing the current session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Francis Deng, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative on the issue, said that in his dialogues with governments, he emphasized recognition of the problem as internal and therefore falling under State sovereignty, but also conveyed that sovereignty was not a barricade against the outside world but a normative concept of responsibility for citizens and all those under State jurisdiction.

Most countries, he said, responded positively to his requests for visits. He hoped, however, that the UN system would encourage those countries that responded evasively or negatively to reconsider their position.

Citing figures from his report to the Commission, Mr. Deng said that internal displacement affected from 20 to 25 million people in over 40 countries, with half of the world's displaced populations in Africa.

Looking back on his 10 years of work as Special Representative, Mr. Deng said his mandate had crystallized into that of a catalyst within the international system to raise awareness about the problem and carry out dialogues with governments and all pertinent actors on ways of protecting and assisting the internally displaced.

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which he had developed in cooperation with the Commission and the General Assembly, were not legally binding, he said. They were based on norms of humanitarian law and attempted to fill an existing vacuum without undermining the sovereign rights of States to negotiate legally binding instruments.

Noting that some governments had expressed concern over how the Guiding Principles had been developed, the Special Representative said the process had been "broad-based and inclusively representative," and that the principles had received positive responses worldwide.

The 53-member Commission, the UN's main human rights body, is holding a debate on specific groups and individuals, with particular emphasis on migrant workers, minorities, mass exoduses and displaced persons.