NOLA diaspora and International Norms

Sep 9, 2005

Under international law, the dispersed former citizens of New Orleans are now “internally displaced persons” (IDPs). Refugees, by contrast, are people who cross national borders when they flee their homes.

The University of Louisville awarded its 2005 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order to Roberta Cohen and Francis Deng for their efforts to develop Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Note: I administer this $200,000 annual award.

The principles

were presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights by the Representative [of the Secretary-General] in 1998.

The UN Commission and the General Assembly in unanimously adopted resolutions have taken note of the Principles, welcomed their use, and encouraged UN agencies, regional organizations, and NGOs to disseminate and apply them. Individual governments have begun to incorporate them in national policies and laws, international organizations and regional bodies have welcomed and endorsed them, and some national courts have begun to refer to them as relevant restatements of existing international law.

So what do these Guidelines say (also here) and how are they relevant to New Orleans? one that caught my eye:

Principle 3

National authorities have the primary duty and responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons within their jurisdiction.

Not to play the “blame game,” but did you notice that it doesn’t say “state and local”?

Several of the principles make clear that displacement should be a last resort and that even in the case of natural disaster, people should only be made to leave their homes when “the safety and health of those affected requires their evacuation” (Principle 6). Clearly, some homes in the area were not flooded and some might argue that total evacuation of the region was not necessary. Caveat: I do not know the condition of gas and power lines in those areas. I only know that there are residents quite reluctant to leave even now who do not feel threatened.

Principle 7 includes these provisions pertinent to natural disaster cases:

(b) Adequate measures shall be taken to guarantee to those to be displaced full information on the reasons and procedures for their displacement and, where applicable, on compensation and relocation;

(c) The free and informed consent of those to be displaced shall be sought;

(d) The authorities concerned shall endeavour to involve those affected, particularly women, in the planning and management of their relocation;

(f) The right to an effective remedy, including the review of such decisions by appropriate judicial authorities, shall be respected.

Principle 11 concerns the safety of the displaced:

1. Every human being has the right to dignity and physical, mental and moral integrity.

2. Internally displaced persons, whether or not their liberty has been restricted, shall be protected in particular against:

(a) Rape, mutilation, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and other outrages upon personal dignity, such as acts of gender-specific violence, forced prostitution and any form of indecent assault

In addition to stories about rapes and other attacks in the temporary housing, there have been stories about locked doors and road blocks:

Principle 14

1. Every internally displaced person has the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his or her residence.

2. In particular, internally displaced persons have the right to move freely in and out of camps or other settlements.

Hmmm. What about the people relocated to the Superdome and Convention Center, as an interim measure? Principle 18:

1. All internally displaced persons have the right to an adequate standard of living.

2. At the minimum, regardless of the circumstances, and without discrimination, competent authorities shall provide internally displaced persons with and ensure safe access to:

(a) Essential food and potable water;

(b) Basic shelter and housing;

(c) Appropriate clothing; and

(d) Essential medical services and sanitation.

About that foreign help, even from Cuba. Principle 25:

1. The primary duty and responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons lies with national authorities.

2. International humanitarian organizations and other appropriate actors have the right to offer their services in support of the internally displaced. Such an offer shall not be regarded as an unfriendly act or an interference in a State’s internal affairs and shall be considered in good faith. Consent thereto shall not be arbitrarily withheld, particularly when authorities concerned are unable or unwilling to provide the required humanitarian assistance.

3. All authorities concerned shall grant and facilitate the free passage of humanitarian assistance and grant persons engaged in the provision of such assistance rapid and unimpeded access to the internally displaced.

I’ve merely highlighted some of the key concerns that I have had in the past week or so, but if you read the entire document, you will likely have others.

Former Clinton-era budget official for national security affairs, Gordon Adams, raises some of these issues, without the international normative angle, and draws a rather strong conclusion.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.