An independent United Nations human rights expert today urged the Iraqi Government and the international community to provide more assistance to internally displace persons (IDPs) in the country and protect their rights, stressing that ending displacement must my considered a key element of rebuilding Iraq.
“This can only be done on the basis of an inclusive and comprehensive strategy that takes into account all communities affected by displacement, including host communities and communities in areas of return,” said Walter Kälin, the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, at the end of an eight-day visit to Iraq.
“I am encouraged by the progress to date, and in particular by the cooperation between the Iraqi authorities and the international community to address the humanitarian and human rights situation of displaced persons in Iraq,” Mr. Kälin said.
He also commended the Iraqi Government for commitments made in relation to displaced persons during the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in February, a process by which a States’ human rights situation is periodically reviewed and recommendations made.
“I believe that this visit is an opportunity to build on and carry forward these recommendations, which were agreed by the Iraqi Government.” Mr. Kälin stressed. “We stand ready to support the Government’s stated commitments to develop a national action plan to provide assistance and compensation to internally displaced persons and, in this context, to pay special attention to persons with special needs, including displaced widows, female headed households, and children,” he added.
Iraq has suffered many waves of internal displacement during the recent past as a result of conflict, sectarian violence, and forced population movements associated with policies of the former regime. According to Government figures, an estimated 1.55 million people remain displaced since 2006, while a significant number of people had been uprooted from their homes prior to 2006.
Some 500,000 Iraqis, the majority of whom are believed to be IDPs, live in informal settlements in Baghdad and other cities on land or in public buildings which they do not own and face potential eviction.
“I am calling on competent authorities to declare a moratorium on evictions until the envisaged new strategy on internal displacement provides a clear plan and viable alternatives for these persons, which are in line with international standards,” Mr. Kälin said.
Affected by severe over-crowding and inadequate shelters, IDPs in the informal settlements have limited or no access to water and other essential services such as sanitation facilities and garbage collection. Those conditions create serious health hazards, particularly among children and the elderly.
“Measures in the immediate should be taken to address the dire living conditions in these settlements, and efforts must be strengthened to find alternative housing and long-term solutions, including allocation of land plots,” the Representative stressed.
He proposed a two-pronged approach to address the problem of internal displacement in Iraq.
“Efforts to identify and implement durable solutions for displaced persons in the country is a political imperative, a development challenge and a vital part of the national reconciliation and peace-building process,” Mr. Kälin stated.
“At the same time, immediate humanitarian needs and human rights must be addressed for all displacement-affected communities, including equitable access to basic services, registration as internally displaced persons, and provision of personal documentation for those who may have lost it,” he added.
He said he was pleased to learn that the Government is in the process of developing a strategy on durable solutions to displacement in Iraq.
“It is important that such a strategy be comprehensive in its scope and include the full range of durable solutions, including return, local integration or settlement in a different location,” he stressed.
The strategy should ensure that all IDPs should have equal access to durable solutions. He said that local integration, in particular, may be the only feasible solution for those who fear return or do not wish to go back to their former places of residence for other reasons.
“To take this decision is their right as citizens of Iraq; it is their constitutional right to choose their place of residence. In this regard, the Government has informed me of recent plans to assess the potential for local integration of persons who do not wish to return to their place of origin,” Mr. Kälin noted.
Mr. Kälin also noted the efforts by the Government to address a broad range of property restitution needs, as well as measures taken to simplify and facilitate procedures to establish ownership of land or houses. The process has led to the restitution of some 3,800 properties.
“The experience gained to date can now contribute to the ongoing efforts of the Iraqi Government to improve fairness and efficiency in property restitution,” the Representative stressed.