A Look at US Government Support for the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

The US government has co-sponsored United Nations’ resolutions that adopted the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement as an important tool for dealing with situations of internal displacement and welcomed the fact that an increasing number of countries, United Nations agencies, and regional and non-governmental organizations are applying them as a standard.
In October 2004, the U.S. State Department established the USAID Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons Policy, which is in keeping with the Guiding Principles.  (Click here to view the policy)  This policy expresses the U.S. government’s commitment to protect the human rights of populations displaced by disasters.  The policy recognizes that internally displaced people are among the world’s most vulnerable population groups because, similar to the situation of Gulf Coast hurricane survivors, internally displaced people:

  • have no special legal status and no protection under international law
  • are subjected to governmental restrictions on humanitarian assistance & long- term development aid
  • are uprooted multiple times for years
  • are women and children and are subjected to abuse and neglect
  • return to destroyed homes and towns, hostile local officials, and face obstacles to returning home
  • suffer prolonged displacement which sets back progress in education, healthcare, infrastructure, & local governance

According to the U.S. State Department policy, the U.S. government is committed to protecting the human rights of internally displaced people through a three-phase approach:

Humanitarian Assistance

• Provide housing, food, water, sanitation systems, and healthcare
• Provide access to education, training, micro credit, legal documents, trauma counseling, assistance in locating families, and support to improve self-reliance

Return and Transition Assistance

• Provide transportation to return home
• Help to reclaim land and rebuild houses and businesses
• Support to establish accountable local governance and stronger civil society
• Safeguard the rights of female-headed households

Long-Term Development Assistance

• Construct infrastructure, health systems, and schools
• Develop modes of transportation and transportation routes
• Support access to vocational training and business loans

Although the U.S. government promotes human rights standards for displaced people in foreign countries, it has failed to apply these standards to protect American citizens who are struggling to rebuild their lives and communities on the Gulf Coast.