REF: 2021

Impact case study

Protecting the human rights of internally displaced persons


Given the pressing mass displacement challenges facing South Sudan, accession to the Kampala Convention is a significant milestone for the protection and assistance of almost two million internally displaced South Sudanese.

Volker Türk

Former Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, UNHCR

Dr Chaloka Beyani

Research by

Dr Chaloka Beyani

LSE Law School

Dr Chaloka Beyani’s work on human rights has been instrumental in establishing new legal protections for internally displaced persons globally, particularly in South Sudan and Ethiopia.  

What was the problem? 

In recent years there have been record numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs), who have been displaced from their homes within their own country. These numbered 33.3 million globally in 2014. The estimated populations of internally displaced people in South Sudan and Ethiopia are 1.8 million and 1.78 million respectively. 

Their displacement can result from complex and overlapping drivers of conflict. In South Sudan, 18 months after the secession of the Republic of South Sudan from Sudan in July 2011, violence and internal armed conflict broke out, leading to the displacement of millions of people. Many internally displaced people were repeatedly displaced because of a variety of compounding causes, including inter-communal violence, security concerns, and natural disasters. The human cost in these situations is immense, characterised by human rights violations, the targeting of civilians by armed groups, and the forced displacement of civilians.   

What did we do? 

Dr Chaloka Beyani has conducted extensive research on international human rights protection, and especially the protection of the human rights of internally displaced persons. His ground-breaking monograph on the subject in 2000 contained practical proposals for applying international human rights standards to internal movement, including policies on freedom of movement and choice of residence within states, the general regulation of movement within states, and the internal movement of minorities and indigenous groups who are vulnerable to displacement.  

Beyani’s proposals were initially treated with some suspicion, not least because they cut across some of the standard policies on the international movement of persons (including refugees) between states. But over the past decade or so, Beyani’s analysis and arguments have become highly influential in shaping state policies on the protection of IDPs, especially in Africa.  

Through his research, Beyani has demonstrated that although freedom of movement is a fundamental liberty, international and domestic legal interpretations of this right are often premised on a model of protection that does not recognise IDPs as bearers of the full panoply of human rights and freedoms. His subsequent studies have also shown how it is possible to extend the protection of national and international norms to IDPs while reconciling this with a state’s claims to sovereignty as the primary basis for protecting citizens. 

In 2005, Beyani was appointed African Union Expert to draft and negotiate the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of IDPs (the Kampala Convention), which was adopted in 2009. Prompted by massive displacement in the Great Lakes Region and the effects of genocide in Rwanda, the Kampala Convention was the first instrument of its kind in the world. As its Legal Adviser, Beyani drafted the 2006 Great Lakes Pact on Peace, Stability and Development, with 11 peace treaties under it, including the first legally binding treaty on protection for and assistance to IDPs.  

In 2010, Beyani was appointed by the United Nations (UN) as its Special Rapporteur and envoy of the Human Rights Council to promote and devise measures for the international protection of IDPs globally.  

The investigations he undertook for the African Union and UN have provided the foundation for his work advising the governments of South Sudan and Ethiopia. With respect to South Sudan, Beyani drew on research conducted in November 2013 when on an official mission as UN Special Rapporteur. Here, Beyani’s research found an absence of adequate capacity and institutional preparedness to prevent and respond to internal displacement in the short, medium, and longer term. A key recommendation was the institution of a comprehensive policy framework for South Sudan.  

What happened? 

Dr Beyani’s pioneering research on protecting and assisting internally displaced persons has underpinned the drafting of new national legislation in South Sudan (2018/19) and Ethiopia (2019/20). This legislation ratifies and implements the Kampala Convention and secures and protects the basic rights of IDPs, many of whom are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.  

Following his work as UN Special Rapporteur, in 2018 Beyani was invited by the South Sudan government to advise on the ratification of the Kampala Convention, to draft the national legislation required to implement it, and to devise a framework to govern the protection and assistance of IDPs and to make provision for durable solutions. 

Beyani outlined two fundamental challenges to legislating effectively in this area. First, the process must build consensus amongst many stakeholders, including the government and UN agencies as well as representatives of IDPs. Secondly, all measures need to be supported by national budgetary provision to save lives, alleviate suffering, and restore lost livelihoods due to displacement.  

Addressing these fundamental challenges, Beyani convened workshops with government officials, agencies, civil society, and representatives of IDP communities. The legislation Beyani drafted following this process adapts international protection benchmarks to suit the South Sudanese context. Notable provisions include: special safeguarding of housing, land, and property rights for women and children; pragmatic approaches to challenges such as area-based programming, transitional solutions, and the use of cash assistance; and specific focus on solutions to internal displacement by providing options for return, integration in the location of displacement, or resettlement to another part of the country. The law also establishes a fund to support its implementation, provided through the allocation of 30 per cent of South Sudan’s national oil revenues.  In June 2019, the South Sudan government formally adopted this draft legislation as the Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons Act 2019.   

After completing his work in South Sudan, in 2019 Beyani was invited by the UN and the government of Ethiopia to undertake similar work there. Again, following workshops with key parties, Beyani prepared and presented a draft Internally Displaced Persons Act. This legislation contains two notable innovations. 

Firstly, it establishes new government structures, such as the Regional Inter-Ministerial Committee, to coordinate protection, assistance, and durable solutions for IDPs at federal government level. Secondly, it establishes a “whole-of-society” approach to implementing comprehensive measures for IDPs, affected populations, and returning refugees, and solutions to issues of housing, property, and land. In early 2020, the legislation ratifying the Kampala Convention was unanimously passed by Ethiopia’s parliament.  

Dr Beyani’s research standing in the field of internally displaced persons has been recognised by his appointment as a member of the UN Advisory Expert Group to the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement in 2019. In 2020 he was also appointed to the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, which is mandated to investigate violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Libya from 2016, including those of migrants and IDPs.