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Internal displacement was first recognized as an issue of international concern by the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights in 1991. Over the following 30 years, the UN Secretary-General’s appointment of a dedicated high-level advocate for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 1992 sparked the development of the 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (Guiding Principles), which in turn became the legal reference for an expansive set of normative standards, frameworks and guidance at the global, regional and national levels. Notably, by August 2020, at least 80 countries were known to have developed over 25 laws and 60 policies related to internal displacement.
Despite this significant progress, countries around the world are grappling with the immediate and long-term impacts of internal displacement. In 2019, an estimated 24.9 million people were newly displaced by disasters with an additional 8.5 million people displaced by conflict and violence. By the year’s end some 50.8 million people were still internally displaced, including 45.7 million people from conflict and violence, the highest number ever recorded. The upward trend shows no sign of abating, with challenges such as climate change, poverty, rapid unplanned urbanization, and the COVID-19 pandemic likely to further undermine displaced persons’ capacity to rebuild their lives.
In 2018, the Guiding Principles celebrated their 20th anniversary (GP20). Following a call from the UN General Assembly to mark the occasion, in 2017 the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs (Special Rapporteur) launched the GP20 Initiative, a three-year, multi-stakeholder platform that focused on preventing, reducing and resolving internal displacement, irrespective of the cause. In 2018, the GP20 Plan of Action for Advancing Prevention, Protection and Solutions for IDPs 2018-2020 (GP20 Plan of Action) was launched with the goal to invigorate
and reinforce strategic and collaborative multi-stakeholder dialogue, action and resources at national, regional and global levels.
The GP20 Plan of Action focused on four interconnected areas of work: i) IDP participation, ii) national law and policy, iii) data and analysis, and iv) protracted displacement and supporting durable solutions. In particular, the GP20 Initiative promoted country-level implementation of the Guiding Principles and other international standards by seeking to bring together national and local authorities, IDPs, displacement-affected communities, UN entities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, academia, development finance institutions, human rights bodies, the private sector and other key experts. The GP20 Initiative also sought to identify and build upon innovative approaches to improving national responses to internal displacement, particularly joint efforts by States, the international community and domestic partners, including IDPs themselves.