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Armed Conflict and Forcible Displacement


Armed Conflict and Forcible Displacement

Individual rights under international law.

Any involuntary uprooting from one’s home is a deeply scarring experience. Home is one of the main fabrics of individual autonomy. It provides a space of refuge from external interferences, for developing family ties, and for enjoying privacy.
Armed Conflict and Forcible Displacement:

Protected by law

Home is protected under international law, particularly under:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.

Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Forcible displacement

So what happens if someone has to abandon their home?

The United Nations estimates that 70 million people are currently forcibly displaced by armed conflict, human rights violations, natural disasters and development. This figure includes refugees and those who are internally displaced.

Every case entails the severance of a person's ties with their home. But displacement due to armed conflict and serious human rights violations is particularly detrimental. It exposes its victims to extra risks, including violence. Such displacement is caused, or cannot be prevented by, the state. This deprives the individual from support mechanisms that would otherwise exist.

A social injustice

Forcible displacement in such circumstances:

  • causes enormous injustice
  • constitutes a problem of humanity

(Colombian Constitutional Court)

Such displacement is a violation of fundamental human rights in itself. But it also violates several other rights, such as the right to life or the right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment. It exposes its victims to adverse conditions by depriving them access to basic commodities such as employment, education and healthcare. It causes social injustice by deepening inequality, marginalisation and discrimination.

Forcible displacement also interferes with a person’s ties to their cultural identity, cultural heritage and community.

Does international law respond effectively to forcible displacement?

International law has been ineffective in responding to this global and rapidly increasing phenomenon.

International law is a legal system built on state sovereignty. It has failed:

  • to develop a coherent normative framework about forcible displacement
  • to recognise an individual right not to be forcibly displaced by armed conflict

The recognition of such a right will not end forcible displacement. But it will provide individuals with legal empowerment. It will restrict state power, particularly in the context of peace agreements.

Significant legal failures also exist regarding whether the displaced have a right to return home and to recover their property.

No displaced person should be forced to return if there are no conditions of safety or appropriate living conditions. But they should be allowed to return under their own free will.

Armed Conflict and Forcible Displacement: Iraqi citizens and soldier.

There are other gaps in international law. This is evident from recent jurisprudence of:

  • the European Court of Human Rights
  • UN proposals for settling the Cyprus dispute
  • the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The request for Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice about the Chagos Archipelagos Islands further highlights the continuing significance of the forced dislocation of its inhabitants and their inability to return home.

‘The weak accept what they must’

Dr Elena Katselli Proukaki (Law School/Forum for Human Rights & Social Justice) is an expert in international law. She has addressed the inconsistencies discussed here in a comprehensive research project. Her recently edited book on Armed Conflict and Forcible Displacement: Individual Rights under International Law (Routledge, March 2018) engages with the issue of forcible displacement as a problem that results from the fragmentation of international law. It has been cited by the Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court (Request for Jurisdiction – Rohingyas).

The book challenges Thucydides’ idea that ‘The weak accept what they must’ (The Standard of Justice). Dr Katselli Proukaki demonstrates that there is enough evidence to support the claim that individuals have a legal right not to be forced from their homes during armed conflict. Where this fails, they have a legal right to return home and to property restitution.

Other chapters focus on how courts engage with such issues. Considerations include examples from:

  • the European Court of Human Rights (Meleagrou/Paraskeva; Tzevelekos)
  • the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Carrillo-Santarelli)
  • the International Criminal Court (Gillett)

The book also contains case studies including Syria (Nahlawi) and Cambodia (Smith; Ly; Khourn).

Promoting social justice at a global level

This research is placed within the University’s strategic vision to promote social justice at a global level. It:

  • addresses the persisting legal gaps
  • pushes international law into new directions which are focused on the individual, rather than state-centric

The research tackles a contemporary legal challenge with significant economic, societal, and environmental ramifications. The consequences are felt not just on those affected by forcible displacement directly, but also by the international community as a whole.