Safeguarding and displacement — how do we protect the individual?
Updated: Sep 29
By Merio Jimmy, Juba
Any one of us can be displaced at any time. Causes of displacement are all around us, especially in Africa generally and the Great Lakes States in particular. Hence, displacement is statistically a daily occurrence for hundreds of people forced to flee their homes, men and women alike.
The role of international agencies is to protect the lives of those displaced peoples and safeguard their rights. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), in collaboration with administrative bodies in host countries, works hard to protect and safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable displaced people.
According to the UNHCR annual reports, over half of these refugees are children, followed by women and the elderly. To understand these statistics, it is important to consider that men are typically involved in conflicts and it is not uncommon for parents to send their children to neighbouring countries in search for safety. This was often the case in the 1983 civil war, as women and children were left in refugee camps whilst men remained in areas controlled by SPLA/M or government.
The role of UNHCR is to ensure that all people receive protection on an equal basis, without concern for political affiliation or circumstances. This is highlighted in areas such as the Middle East, where divisive national and religious politics are common. Hence, protection of persons is a mandatory concern for all states. Although one country may be safe now, it could fall into disaster at any time. This threat is clearly seen in the issue of climate change. State actors have a mandatory responsibility to implement such concepts in the field, and report such progress appropriately.
In its annual handbook, the UNHCR focuses on development and the commitment of particular countries to international standards of human rights protection. The UNHCR categorises countries into classes according to their place on the human rights index. This addresses compliance with international standards to monitoring and enforcing human rights law. Such is monitored by regional offices of the UNHCR. Regional bureaus are tasked with collecting reports from both their own branches and other international humanitarian organisations operating in the area. Updates on progress are usually received on a daily, monthly and yearly basis by the United Nations Secretary General’s office.
The UNHCR’s work overlaps with the United Nation’s policies on gender equality, female empowerment, and humanitarian protection. This is demonstrated in the UNHCR’s policy on age, gender, and diversity (AGA). Here, the UNHCR highlights crucial points that must always be taken into consideration when solving problems associated with refugees. Countries, therefore, must respect and retain their international commitments to displaced persons.
In recent years, respecting international commitments to UNHCR principles has become an important choice to the ‘big five’ nations. The world’s great powers must be an example to others in their commitment to UNHCR obligations. Despite this, it is almost impossible to force them into line. As Thomas Hobbes clearly argues, anything can be justified by reason of the state. Hobbes’ theory of realism to international geopolitics is clearly that which governs relations between powers.
However, there must be operational guidance for local humanitarian agencies regarding those who fear persecution. National administrations in countries are requested to work in conformity to international standards. In the same way, international humanitarian agencies must cooperate with local authorities to achieve this goal. People must be put first.
In many cases, local context is overlooked by international agencies. This is in spite of the fact that diversity of social norms plays a major role in recognition of individual rights. As a result, provisions of rights will often work in accordance to the way in which local social norms have been historically violated. Africa exemplifies this. Unlike regional bodies such as the African Union, the UNHCR has occasionally tended towards Islamic African countries in identifying rights violations. The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) demonstrates how this occurred. Elsewhere more recently, the US has stood against international trends on the Paris Accord on Climate Change and Earth Summit 2002. As a result, it must be understood that social diversity should be seriously considered in individual right protection. Therefore, the UNCHR shall takeover with the introduction of a third state choice.