Hold the United States Accountable: The Internationally Recognized Rights of the 'Internally Displaced'

 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the debate is already raging on how to deal with those displaced by the disaster and whether to rebuild New Orleans and other coastal communities. Competing interests combined with poor planning and a disjointed response from public and private agencies have created confusion about priorities, funding and other crucial details. It is imperative that a human rights and humanitarian law framework be applied to these discussions and form the basis for all future action.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement provide just such a framework. The principles identify the internationally recognized rights and guarantees of people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes and communities due to a number of factors, including natural disaster. According to this set of principles, those who have been displaced from their homes but not crossed international borders are classified as “internally displaced persons,” not “refugees” or “evacuees.” This is not a mere question of semantics, but an essential definition that establishes the obligations that government has to protect and defend the rights of the Gulf Coast residents who have been dispersed across the country.

The extent to which various aspects of the recovery should be funded will be a topic of much debate among policymakers, especially given the federal deficit and competing economic needs. But the rights of the displaced must be viewed as a separate and overriding issue. Receiving protection and humanitarian assistance from government authorities is not