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Divided Nations: The Dilemmas of International Protection for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons [Rush Transcript, Federal News Service, Inc.]

Speakers: Roberta Cohen, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, the Brookings Institution; Co-Director, the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, and Principal Adviser to the Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, and Francis Deng, Director, Center for Displacement Studies; Research Professor of International Law, Politics and Society, Johns Hopkins University; Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Kluge Center, Library of Congress, and Wilhelm Fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Presider: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
May 15, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations Nwe York, NY



RICHARD N. HAASS: Okay, why don’t we get going? Good evening. Welcome. I’m Richard Haass, and I’m fortunate enough to be president of this institution. And before we get into tonight’s program, which is, I believe, one of the most important, for many reasons, of the programs we do each year, let me just go through one or two housekeeping matters.

First of all, will people please check their pockets for their pocketbooks and take out and turn off their cell phones, BlackBerrys, indeed everything electronic except a hearing aid or pacemaker. It makes it easier for everyone to hear, and also they tend to interfere with our sound system.

Tonight’s meeting is on the record. Everything you say can and will be used against you.

Tonight, as everyone in the room knows, is the Arthur C. Helton memorial lecture. We established this after Arthur was killed in August of 2003 in Baghdad. At that point he had been with the council for about four years as one of our senior fellows, and whose work, I thought—I had just arrived here a few months before—I thought, in some ways, exemplified what this place was meant to be, doing really interesting work but was changing the intellectual debate in the field, but not in ways that were theoretical or abstract, in the ways that many universities seem content to produce. It was work that had relevant, practical, daily application, and beyond that, in ways that touched people’s lives. So it was, to me, the best sort of work.

And tonight we meet here to once again not simply honor his memory and what he did, but also to discuss the issues that he was so associated with, because alas, the need to discuss these issues and to do something about these issues has not diminished with time. And I fear that that will probably remain the case for some time to come.

Let me just, before we begin, acknowledge a few people who are here tonight. Jackie Gilbert, Arthur’s widow, is here. Jackie has been associated with the council and with this program for years now, and I just wanted to acknowledge her, along with Pamela Krause, Arthur’s sister. We’re very happy to have you both with us tonight. Thank you.

The two people we have speaking here tonight are not strangers to me. To the contrary, they have the misfortune, as many fellows here now will understand, of working with me for years. In a previous incarnation, I was the director of the foreign policy program, essentially the studies program, parallel to ours here now, at the Brookings Institution in our nation’s capital. And when I got there, two of the senior fellows there were these two individuals sitting to my left, Roberta Cohen and Francis Deng.

And I will admit—this was, what, the early ‘90s when I got there? Early ‘90s—from Roberta’s point of view, probably a day that will live in infamy—and I had no idea what they were working on. I came out of a pretty traditional meat-and-potatoes approach to foreign policy and national security. And here were two people working on a subject; I did not even know at the time what it was. And by that, I mean internally displaced persons.

And if you were to ask me the difference between an IDP—well, first, if you asked me what an IDP was, I would have been stumped; and then if you were to ask me the difference between an IDP and a refugee, I would have been stumped. If you had asked me how many IDPs there were, again, I would not have known the answer. And essentially they took it upon themselves to educate me over the next few years.

But they did much more than that. They are the co-parents, if you will, of a big idea. And I’ve actually come to the conclusion that big ideas matter. Indeed, it’s the reason I’m in this business, because we don’t produce wizards here at the council. We produce and market ideas.

And they are the co-parents of an idea that is a big one, and it goes beyond IDPs, as important as the plight of some 25 million people is. And the idea, if I don’t do a great disservice to it, is that the whole notion of sovereignty, which is in some ways the building block of international relations and world order as we know it, and in its time, in the 17 th century, when it really came of age, was a major positive development, because when sovereignty became the rule, particularly in Europe, it became a stabilizing, ordering principle of international relations, because it basically meant that states would not constantly be warring against other states, that they would not constantly be involved in one another’s business, and the idea that borders were in some ways inviolate, became a stabilizing development in international relations.

And the big idea that Roberta and Francis helped develop, which included but transcended IDPs, was the idea that sovereignty, as important as it was, could not be an absolute. And to the contrary, they came up with the slogan of sovereignty as responsibility. And the idea that to whom much is given, much is expected, well, it applies here.

To states to whom much is given in the name of sovereignty, much is expected, and that if you are a sovereign state, you not only enjoy rights, but you also have responsibilities. You have obligations. You have obligations to your neighbors and you have obligations to your own citizens. And when those obligations are not met, then the grant of sovereignty to you, to some extent, gets dialed back. It is not an absolute, unconditional grant. But again, states, if they do not live up to their responsibilities and their obligations, forfeit some of the normal advantages that come with sovereignty, and they forfeit them to others, to the international community.

And Roberta and Francis, in some ways, introduced and developed this idea. And just speaking for myself, it has had a deep impact on my own work. My last book in many ways steals from them liberally. The line at times between plagiarism and our research is thin. But I’m intellectually indebted to them both, because it forced me to rethink some basic ideas about international relations.

And if you pick up today’s newspaper and you look at the debate over Darfur, if you unpack it, if you deconstruct it, their ideas are at the heart of it, because essentially they’re saying the sovereign government of the Sudan, a place Francis knows personally and painfully well, is not fulfilling its obligations. And as a result, it is up to the international community to intervene internally.

We can argue about what’s the method, what’s the form of the methodology, what has to happen legally in order to make it legitimate and so forth, but it is a big idea, again, with real applications, and I believe real influence.

It is the reason that I could not—when we began, I don’t know, eight, 10 months ago to think about who we would ask to speak tonight at a lecture in Arthur’s memory, I was hard pressed to think of any individual, much less two individuals, who would be more fitting. On top of that, they had personal interactions with Arthur, knew him and so forth. So that was the icing on the cake.

But Arthur was a man of ideas and action, and tonight we have two individuals who are individuals of ideas and action. And again, I couldn’t think of a better way to honor the memory of someone who is so close to this institution.

With that, let me turn to them. And I’ll begin with Roberta. She has the misfortune of sitting closer to me. Before you get to how I mischaracterized your thinking, what’s new in this field? What is—if you were talking to someone who had not been following this closely, what’s going on that’s exciting you? What’s going on that—some of us here are experts; some of us aren’t—what’s going on that we should be paying attention to?

ROBERTA COHEN: First, I want to publicly thank Richard Haass, because he was tremendously supportive of the work we were doing on internally displaced persons at Brookings. And I remember, I felt one of the most challenging assignments I had at Brookings was a self-imposed one to educate Richard Haass. (Laughter.)

And I remember in 1999, in the Kosovo emergency, I was out of the country and I went on the Internet to see what was happening at Brookings, and there was a program on Kosovo, and Richard Haass was speaking to the press and the public. And I saw that he said, “Don’t forget the internally displaced persons. They need protection.” And I remember saying out loud where I was sitting, “By Jove, he’s got it.” (Laughter.)

It’s an honor for me to be in a program in Arthur Helton’s memory, because he was a colleague, a friend, and somebody I had enormous respect for. And we used to talk and meet and bounce ideas across each other. And to answer your question, Richard, if he were here right now, the first thing I would tell him was that there’s what I would call a more comprehensive approach to dealing with people who are uprooted and at risk, whether they are on one side of the border or the other.

Arthur was a great defender of refugees, people who fled their own countries and were outside their countries and benefited from international protection. And he defended them against all the growing restrictions on asylum seekers and refugees. This was his—a great passion.

But Arthur also recognized that the age of protection only for refugees was over. And one of the reasons it was over was that protecting people inside their own countries, which really reflects changing notions of sovereignty, which Richard has just outlined, I came to that via the human rights world, where what was going on within a country, we felt back in the ‘70s, was the concern of the international community and was not just within borders.

But a more comprehensive approach—and this has really happened in the last number of years—that there seems to be an emerging international responsibility toward people not only who are fleeing their countries and are outside their countries, but those who need protection on the ground inside.

Now, this shift to the international community, which happens when states do not live up to their own national responsibilities toward their citizens, the shift to the international community has also led to the idea of a collective responsibility to protect, which is now in this world summit document, that there’s a collective responsibility to protect people particularly when they’re at risk of genocide or crimes against humanity or war crimes, and I would add mass starvation.

But this theory is way ahead of the actual practice. It’s very difficult to protect people in their own countries, divided countries, governments at war with their own populations. But what has been happening and what I would tell Arthur is, one, that there are humanitarian organizations and nongovernmental groups that are on the ground in different countries. They’re quite intrusive. And they are grappling not only with delivering food, medicine and shelter, but the big debate now is can you operationalize the collective responsibilities to protect? How do you—what do you do to protect people in your own countries? What steps do you take?

There are—there’s a legal framework that’s the guiding principles on internal displacement which were developed—and Francis will be addressing you shortly—when he was representative of the secretary-general on internally displaced persons. And this is really a protection document of really what are the rights and what are the obligations of governments toward people who are uprooted inside their own countries.

There are new institutional arrangements. This is very new, and it’s come into effect in 2006. But the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, which has always been an agency since 1951 that protects refugees, has now taken on the responsibility of being the lead agency for protecting internally displaced persons. And this really underscores the comprehensive approach for dealing with people on both sides of the border and how absurd it began to seem, but also how sovereignty was being looked at in a different way, that it couldn’t be a barrier against protection.

There’s also much more diplomacy on behalf of both sets of people. The Security Council is quite engaged with the whole idea of protecting civilians of their own countries, whatever their particular record is on Darfur. But at the theoretical side of it, there is also a lot of actual engagement from the secretary-general down, and also involving senior officials in our government, the United States government.

You could see assembling in Abuja for Darfur would be the deputy secretary of State and people from the European Union and the African Union. And this was all reflecting, here’s an emergency, a humanitarian and human rights emergency, that in a sense one could argue maybe is not in the national strategic interest of the United States, and yet there seemed to be a responsibility to do something about it.

There are peacekeeping operations now regionally and internationally, and IDPs and civilians are in their terms of reference, in their mandates. There are resources, international resources, that are targeted toward these people. And there is a peace-building commission that’s going to be developed as part of U.N. reform which will particularly be of interest to Arthur Helton, because he wanted very much—he felt it was totally important what you do after a conflict so that you prevent a return to conflict in a country.

I do want to say that Arthur always said, “What’s in your tool box?” And so I would say that there are legal, there are institutional, there are political, there are military, there are different mechanisms. They’re fledgling; many of them are fledgling. But nonetheless, they’re there.

And it’s a very difficult environment that we’re working in now. It’s the war on terror. But it’s also a time when, in my opinion, U.S. political power is eroding and that we are bogged down in a war in Iraq. We have a horrendous deficit.

So the reputation and credibility of the United States, I feel, is at a low, and the United States is now answering questions before the Committee Against Torture coming from China with regard to what it’s done at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.

So we’re in an environment where the U.S. is not the only major influence and where you have an ascendancy of countries like China, where, in the case of Darfur or Burma or other situations, there’s displacement, they have policies that we really have to deal with and begin to look at.

So there is a combination of tools that we have and a combination of mechanisms. It’s not an easy time to be promoting this, but we are. And I did want to extend also my really—so glad to have Jackie Gilbert with us and so glad to be able to make these comments in honor of Arthur Helton.

HAASS: Thanks, Roberta.

Francis, let me walk back over some of what Roberta said and begin with a question for you, which is, do we now have in place all the rules, arrangements, laws, mechanisms, you name it, that we need? I mean, basically is it a problem just of enforcement, or is there still a problem of design?

FRANCIS M. DENG: First of all, Richard, let me thank you for the very kind introduction. And you said it so powerfully, I almost believed you. (Laughter.)

And again, you know, with your introduction—and Roberta, you have covered the field quite (exhaustively ?)—but I wanted to put something of a human face on the problem we’re talking about. And I’ll get to your question.

As representative of the secretary-general, I visited a number of countries that were torn apart by conflict and where people were massively displaced. And what I would do would be to meet first with the leaders—presidents, ministers, donors in the country, human rights bodies—and then go down to the population that is affected. And I’d then talk to the displaced populations with the view to going back to the leaders of the government to report to them what I have found.

Now, in one country, when I asked them, “What would you want me to go and tell your leaders?” the response was: “Those are not our leaders. We have no people in that government. To that government we are criminals, and our only crime is that we are poor.”

Now, in a Central Asian country, and I posed the same question, the response was virtually—was quite identical, with the difference that instead of class distinction, they emphasized ethnicity.

In an African country, a senior U.N. official was talking to the prime minister who complained that refugees were overwhelming the capacity of the country and that the U.N. was not doing enough to help them. The official responded by saying, but we are helping your people who are affected by war in a particular region. And the prime minister’s response was—(inaudible)—my people; on the contrary, the food you give to those people is killing my soldiers.

I mean, it just really is quite often the people are victims of these situations, whether they’re displaced or they are refugees or simply civilians affected by conflict, are so marginalized. Some of our writings describe them as the dispossessed or the forsaken.

Now, when they have dire needs and it’s a question of survival, sometimes physical—you know, persecution—instead of being assisted, they are neglected and even persecuted. Who do they turn to but to the international community.

But then when they turn to the international community—and especially in a conflict situation where governments don’t want the world to see what’s going on and certainly don’t want the world to help people they have identified as part of the enemy—that’s when sovereignty comes in—in a sense, sovereignty defined almost as a barricade against international involvement.

And I must say, you know, again talking about Arthur Helton, with whom we worked very closely, the notion of seeing these populations comprehensively was a very important one. So that the last days of his life, we were working to see how we could expand our approach to IDPs to become comprehensive of all the populations that are affected.

Now, yes, the guiding principles were meant to be an articulation of the fundamental norm that governments are responsible for protecting and assisting their citizens in the first place. And if they don’t have the capacity, they call on the international community to assist them. But if they do not have the capacity, and they’re not willing to invite the international community, that is where sovereignty as a responsibility comes in. But it’s only this or that.

I mean, we do have the norms (whether/or the ?) human rights norms. We have the—with respect to refugees, we have the refugee convention. We have a variety of humanitarian principles that the guiding principles restated, in a sense; not that we were inventing anything new. On the contrary, the lawyers who were working with us were very keen that we restate hard law to make it easier for it to be adopted.

But is having law enough? How many principles do we have cutting across the human rights spectrum or humanitarian principles that get violated continuously? What I try to do in a way of bridging responsibility with pragmatic way of reaching governments was to say this is a sensitive issue. It’s an internal matter, one that obviously is going to be confronted with sovereignty.

So I go to countries and impress upon them—the first five minutes with the president were critical—to say, I come realizing this is an internal matter, primarily your responsibility. I come respectful of your sovereignty, but I don’t see sovereignty in a negative sense as a barricade against the outside world. I see sovereignty in a positive sense, as a normative principle of responsibility. And then I go on. Depending on the level of the comfort, I say: “And in this world, in this day and age when the world is watching closely what’s going on internally, if you do not discharge this responsibility, you do not call on the international community to come and assist and your people are suffering and dying in large numbers, the world is not going to leave you alone. And therefore, it is in your own interest. The protection of your sovereignty depends very much on being responsive in discharging this responsibility in collaboration with the international community.”

Of the 30-plus missions that I undertook, I don’t recall any official or president telling me I don’t care how irresponsible we are; this is our own internal affairs, and you have nothing to do with it.

The thing, Richard, is when we say sovereignty carries responsibility, we imply that there’s accountability. We imply that they will be made to pay if they disregard that principle. Now, as we look around, we could say there is a wide spectrum ranging from diplomatic discourse to varying degrees of sanctions to an extreme military involvement. That’s a (tough (side ?) and we have a lot of examples, Darfur among them, where it’s not enough to uphold the principle—the legal principle.

HAASS: Before we get to the failures, if we will, of implementation, let me come back, maybe, ask the question: Everything you and Roberta have just talked about, what is the legal—what is the legal standing of these ideas? You’ve got these principles about IDPs; you’ve got this notion of sovereignty as responsibility; you’ve got people talking about the responsibility to protect. What is the legal status of these ideas? Are these voluntary codes of conduct for governments? What weight do they have in international law and international politics? Where are now at this moment in history?

COHEN: I remember when they first—(inaudible)—set of 30 principles. And when Francis Deng presented them to the Commission on Human Rights of the U.N. in 1998, we really did wonder how this was going to be received and whether we were going to have a lot of trouble. And it was a nice coincidence that that year I was invited to be on the American delegation to the commission. And I did make it a condition of my being on the delegation that I have that item, which nobody knew what it was. And they said, oh, of course. So the United States made its first statement before the U.N.

I wasn’t allowed to welcome the principles, but I was allowed by the lawyers to welcome their completion, because nobody really knew how this was going to work out. But when the United States did speak on this subject, then there was—that was very helpful. But also, there were a lot of U.N. agencies that were very behind this.

And so in the end, they were taken note of—but since that time, they were taken note of. They’re principles; they’re not binding treaty. They’re not an instrument like that. But all I can say is that over the next—from 1998 until now—the World Summit document, paragraph 132 recognizes the principles as an important international framework for the protection of internally displaced persons.

U.N. General Assembly and commission resolutions now regularly call it “important standard” and an important tool. The secretary-general has called upon countries with internally displaced populations to be guided by these principles. That’s not a treaty.

At the time they were developed, it was a deliberate choice that we not do a treaty. There was no support for a treaty at that time by any government, because of the sensitive nature. It also would have taken, could have taken decades. And we were trying to respond to organizations which were suddenly out in the field in countries protecting or assisting internally displaced populations. They didn’t have a piece of paper to turn to. So they—Mrs. Ogata, the head of the High Commission for Refugees, said, I need a piece of paper.

So we didn’t go the treaty route. At this point in time, it seems to us like that was a very good evolution. They are being used. Governments are using them, a growing number, for laws and policies. International organizations use them as a framework. Regional organizations use them. And so they’re developing a life of their own. They’re sometimes referred to as “soft” law.

Whether their continued expanded usage will make them into kind of a customary or harder law—they are based on existing law. So much of it is already customary law. We will wait and see. There are those who are saying, you’ll have more accountability if you actually have a treaty—although that’s a debatable point.

But I would—in my opinion, and I think it’s Francis’ as well, but perhaps you have a different view—until such time as there is a consensus so that a convention or a treaty on the subject would give the same measure of protection as the guiding principles do, I wouldn’t be in favor of going the convention route internationally.

There are too many governments, including my own, that would like to rewrite the Geneva Conventions and other international law upon which these principles are based. So I think right now would be not the right time, and that we should go for expanded usage. But at the regional level, like the African Union invited Francis to be involved in the development of a convention in Africa on this subject, using the guiding principles as a base. And that could be a good way to move in that direction.

But for the time being, we have been working with government—and I’ve been doing that a lot lately—working with them, developing policies and laws based on these principles that would be enforceable in their countries as law.


DENG: Let me just add that, you know, I’m not personally convinced that the dichotomy between what is legally binding and what is a persuasive instrument is that important. I think that the process that we adopted here is often referred to as a rather interesting, maybe creative way of doing that which might not have been easily doable. And by that I mean, in consulting people before we embarked this, there’s quite a controversy on whether you, number one, should really restate these principles or whether that would, in a sense, give the opportunity to weaken what was already in existence. There’s what Roberta said about how long it takes to—even if governments were prepared to look into this, how long it would take to conclude a treaty at a time when the need was very strongly felt by Mrs. Ogata saying, you know, we need something now to guide us.

I think the process by which it was developed, the fact it was based on existing law, the fact that there’s a morally compelling case that was there that everybody noticed—and incidentally, what was interesting, we presented the guiding principles and we told—guiding principles: you know, they’re not to frighten governments. We presented to the intergovernmental—what they call the interagency standing committee composed of all the heads of U.N. agencies. And fortunately, another good friend of the mandate, Sergio de Mello, was the chairman of that body. He had them take note of the guiding principles.

Again, we did not want them to be adopted, because the debate about adoption would have created problems. So they took note of the guiding principles and even decided to send them to the field for their staff to work to apply them. And in my submission, I referred to this decision as well as the decision of the representative to use them in his work with the government. Only one delegate, the delegate of Mexico, had some reservation. And then, ironically, when I went to Mexico, he was asked at a luncheon to speak on the guiding principles, and he spoke very powerfully in support of the guiding principles. So even that one dissenting vote came on board.

We are often asked, as Roberta was saying, whether we should move forward to having them adopted. I think the extent to which they (have been/are being ?) applied—very often people assuming that they’re already binding even though they’re not—I think it makes a very good case for action rather than a delayed tactic of debating and formally adopting them. You know, that’s my orientation and jurisprudence. (It’s not simply ?) a question of having a rule; it’s a question of backing it with action and being able to have it acted upon.

HAASS: I’m going to ask two other quick questions and then I will stop.

On many cases, some of the most important and certainly some of the largest countries in the world take a rather absolutist view towards sovereignty. That includes China, India, Russia in that category, in part because they’re worried that if there’s any breach in the absoluteness of sovereignty it will be used against them on certain claims of theirs, be it Taiwan or be it—or other parts of China—Tibet; whether it’s Chechnya, whether it’s Kashmir; what have you.

Do you believe you have any sort of support from these really important countries about these ideas or not?

COHEN: India was one of the countries, and they still do. Generally, every time the guiding principles is mentioned, somebody from the delegation gets up and says they’re not binding law but they’re useful.

China has largely, or thus far, kept out of this discussion. When we had questions from some delegations—like Francis mentioned Mexico, also Egypt, Algeria, India— China was never part of that particular group.

But what I think is very important in those particular instances is that we have developed with regard to India a lot of civil society programs because their own government is never going to—their own government will not ratify or adopt the—sign the refugee convention. They would never—even if the guiding principles were law, they would never probably ratify anything like that based on their sort of historic and general view of this, but they do recognize they’re useful.

But I think civil society is very importantly a way to go to build up national capacity and other viewpoints within the country. And if I just might add—because I mentioned before that China is a country which concerns me greatly, because I see the impact on Darfur and somehow blocking strong Security Council action in this area, and also on Burma—both countries with large, sizeable, internally displaced populations. And here I would love to know whether the international human rights movement is engaging at all with Chinese reformers in order to raise the question of their country’s foreign policy and whether there is some way they would have—I mean, they have enough problems, I know, within, but just to be promoting a more enlightened or responsible foreign policy with regard to documents like this and with regard to internally displaced persons.

HAASS: Francis, I’m going to ask my last question to you. I can see IDPs coming out of two scenarios. One is where you have an evil government, which specifically carries out courses of action designed to displace people; or a government that lacks capacity. One way or other it’s overwhelmed by events, be they God-made or man-made.

Is there any significant distinction for your work?

DENG: Well, I think the missing link there is, if you have a government that is evil, that is marginalizing its people, persecuting its people, I mean, the responsibility is quite obvious.

If you have a government that just doesn’t have the means, the question is, are they receptive to international involvement? Because you may find that even governments that don’t have the means usually use sovereignty as a means of projecting a certain sense of pride and national identity. So that instead of being humble enough to say we don’t have the ability to do this so please come and help us, they may stand up in the name of sovereignty.

And in some of the cases you mentioned, incidentally, when I dialogue with the representatives (say for instance ?) of China, the response was, we are afraid this might be used by powerful, usually Western governments, to interfere or intervene. But we are not afraid of anybody intervening in China. We are too big for anybody to intervene. It’s the Third World countries we are protecting.

And India would say, look, it’s a good principle, but we think it should be left to governments. And in democracies, people are accountable; governments are accountable to their people, and we are a democracy so we don’t want any involvement.

Russia—surprisingly, when I first went to Russia in the early ‘90s, when they were concerned about the position of the Russians in former Soviet territories, one senior official—who remembered later on that he said it—said to me, “We have to hold governments responsible and accountable.” And he said, “To put it crudely, if they don’t take care of their people, they should expect intervention.”

HAASS: Let me stop there.

Let’s now open up the conversation to our members. Wait for a microphone. Let us know who you are. And if you could please keep your questions to one. And if it’s not a question, keep it short. At least end by going up to a higher pitch and we will make believe it’s a question. (Laughter.)

So who would like to begin? Yes, ma’am?

QUESTIONER: I would like—

HAASS: No, you have to wait for the mike. So you just violated the first rule. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: I would like to ask—

HAASS: You have to identify yourself. You just violated the second rule. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Joanne Kim (ph).

I would like to ask both our guests this evening what is it that sustains you, and where do you get your inner strength to continue this important work that you both do?

COHEN: One of the mentors that I had was a man named Roger Baldwin, who was the founder of the American Civil Liberties Union. And he said to me if you want to stay young, keep an unpopular cause in your pocket. (Laughter.) That’s part of my—to sustain.

But I would just add that I first saw internally displaced persons in Ethiopia in the 1980s. And I was surrounded—I joined USAID for bringing a shipment of food and I was surrounded by masses of people. And I realized—and they were in desperate straits. And one woman brought her baby. She opened up a blanket, and part of the child’s insides were hanging out, and I knew that I couldn’t do anything for her.

But I realized in looking at all these people that were they able to get over the border, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees and the U.N. would be waiting for them, because they were within their own country; they were going to be fleeing from government forces, and it was going to be there they really wouldn’t have the same protection. So the idea stayed with me, and I remember when I began writing about that when I came back to the United States.

DENG: I think in my case, if you come from where I come from, you cannot afford not to be concerned. And secondly, if you come from where I come from, you must have a certain degree of optimism. You cannot afford to be too pessimistic. And I have convinced myself that all of us, in whatever small or big ways, can do something that can add to the cumulative effect.

Ultimately, a few will stand out as having made a difference. Many of us may never be known to have made a difference, but I have an inner conviction and confidence that yes, we do make a difference, however small.

HAASS: Yes, ma’am.

QUESTIONER: Sheri Fink, Harvard School of Public Health.

Thanks so much for your comments.

I think that it is very easy to get pessimistic these days, and so I want you to make me optimistic. My question is, given the fact that there are so many problems with protection of civilians that continue despite all of these advances in the laws—the soft law and the hard law—can you give some concrete examples of where these laws and norms are making a difference, have made a difference? And can you tell us what’s really needed to turn these laws and these ideas into action?

DENG: You know, I think we should not overstate the importance of laws. And that’s why what Roberta began with was important—where are we and what kind of mechanisms exist?

Now I do believe, also, that dialogue is critically important. There are a number of countries that initially would not have me visit, and I kept knocking at the door. Each time I would go to Geneva, I would meet with the ambassadors. And among those countries were Turkey, were Mexico, even the Philippines, Indonesia, Russia. And interestingly enough, once I got to some of these countries and engaged them—I’m not going to claim that I made a miraculous, you know, change in their attitude, but I found very often that in dialoguing with these governments, they were responsive in a way that sometimes even made the U.N. agencies lagging behind. Because these agencies would say this is a very sensitive issue; these governments don’t want this issue raised. And yet, I would go and raise the issue.

I went one time talking to a general—a very tough-minded general—and he engaged me, and after a lengthy discussion in which my tone also rose with his attitude. He ended by saying I can see, Mr. Deng, you are a missionary. (Laughter.) See?

On another occasion, I was with the minister of interior of an African country who was quite notorious for being tough-minded, and people were frightened of him. And when I went there, I could just see on his face hostility and tension. So rather than give my usual, you know, greeting, I asked a question to elicit from him a reaction—to get it out of him. And he began to tell me we are not going to allow foreigners to come and tell us; we have our African pride and our dignity, and we will not allow foreigners to come and tell us what we should be doing.

And I said: “Mr. Minister, as an African, I can only share your pride and African dignity. But you know, we cannot have African dignity apply to some and not to others. And the fact that your country is seen now to be identified with one group and the other group marginalized doesn’t speak well of African dignity.”

To my surprise—well, not to my surprise—but my colleagues who were with me could not believe that I talked to the minister that way. The next day I saw him; he was smiling. And I said: “Mr. Minister, you give me hope. When I see you smile, I get optimistic.” And he said well, I always smile under difficulties.

You know, that is—even in going to Russia on Chechnya. And these are—these are countries that initially did not welcome me because I have made some tough statement about Chechnya. But when I went there with the principles, and they made the mistake—or I don’t know how to describe it—of saying these guiding principles, though not binding, are very useful, too. So we agreed entirely on how the guiding principles should be followed.

After going to Chechnya and coming back to them, I dialogue with them. I said, you know, I was really encouraged by your response to the guiding principles and your commitment to applying the guiding principles. What I found in the field was contrary to what you are telling me. Is it that there is no communication with the authorities there? Is it that they are simply disobedient to your position? And that became a point of entry into a dialogue which, after I left and another senior U.N. official went—Jan Egeland I think went. And we began to argue with them or dialogue with them on the basis of the guiding principles.

So I do think that while change is not always spectacular, I do think that just human interaction makes a difference.

HAASS: Well, Francis, let me press you on that. Okay, you had a good conversation and all that. Do you believe you have evidence one way or another that what the Russians did in Chechnya or what this or that African interior minister did in this or that African country actually was affected because of concern that if they were seen to be violating these principles—or if they were violating these principles—they would somehow pay a price; be it individually or collectively there, their government would pay a price? Is there reason to believe, to put it bluntly, all this work has made a difference?

DENG: Well, I think Roberta will support me in saying that in a number of countries, we have follow-up reports from the representatives in the field. And quite a number of them would give us periodic reports about the impact of the mission to the policies of the country concerned. So while Russia might not be a glowing example of a country that responded out of fear of what the world would do, there are quite a few, I think, who would fall into that category.

COHEN: Yes, Russia is probably the example of just the opposite, although they, oddly enough, issued a written public statement that they observe the guiding principles. But I think they are a good example of really the sovereignty that one doesn’t chip away at, along with Burma and more recently Zimbabwe.

But I wanted to mention that the idea of protecting people inside their own countries is a very new one. You can’t expect—it’s an idea. There’s a tremendous gap between the idea—can we do it? And there are some who feel we may never be able to operationalize protection inside countries—maybe in some, not in others. It’s something to really try to make into reality. And if you consider that really this began maybe around 1990—just even the thinking began—and it’s now 2006, I mean, that’s not good enough time for people in emergencies. But it is—it hasn’t been enough time to really develop.

I’ll give you one good example of—in Colombia, where there are about 3 or 4 million internally displaced persons, the Constitutional Court based its rulings on these guiding principles and has ordered the government now to give more support—I mean financial, material support—to internally displaced persons. And I think they will have to, because that’s the highest court in the land. So I thought that was a good one.

And Turkey is another—I mean, somewhere in the middle as an example. Francis paid a visit there and saw they were beginning to change their attitude. And there, I think it was more the desire to enter the EU than anything we would say. But I was invited this past year to Turkey and did go and addressed their Ministry of Interior on internally displaced persons, because they now acknowledge they have a problem. They need to look at the return of all these Kurds that are in the cities and they wanted guidance on it. And so this was a country that wouldn’t allow anyone in or to talk about it for years. So Francis broke a lot of ice with them, and so did the European Union. But I think there are—you know, you just have to keep trucking as they say.

HAASS: And the issue that’s obviously most on people’s minds in this context is Darfur. Is there any sense that there’s been any impact on the government—in the central government there?

DENG: Well, you know, I usually say that the mistake we make is to see Darfur as an isolated humanitarian crisis. Darfur is the latest in a series of crises that the country has been experiencing since independence. It began in the southern Sudan, a war that intermittently went on for half a century—literally just ended last year. In the ‘80s—when I say it began in the south, I’m talking about 1955. In the ‘80s, the areas bordering the south—the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile—joined the war. And the east also is bubbling with crises. Darfur tried in 1991; they were crushed and they tried again later. All of these regional conflicts are a reaction to a marginalization by the center that tends to be perceived as Arab-Islamic.

I always say there are two aspects to the crisis of identity in the Sudan. One is a self-perception that distorts the realities of the country. The second is this self-perception is then imposed on the nation as a whole.

Now, what is making Darfur so acute is that this is a war of identities in which the established order is being threatened fundamentally. What the south started, and the others have since joined, is a search for a new Sudan where people all have a sense of belonging on equal footing as citizens. And that would fundamentally threaten that core group that has identified itself as Arab and Islamic and has been dominating the country. And the more threatened they are, the tougher they react, which is why Darfur has been particularly severe, because the threat coming from the south is becoming quite credible, and so they’re holding on.

In the end, you know, it’s very similar to what happened in South Africa. There comes a point where people realize that their own interest lies in finding a common ground that everybody can hold onto.

HAASS: Thank you.


QUESTIONER: I’m Christopher Calabia from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The term refugee is defined in the 1951 convention, but in recent years, some observers have suggested that this term should be expanded to include people who are displaced, either internally or externally, by environmental disasters or sustained environmental decline.

I’d be curious to hear from either of the panelists whether you believe that expanding the notion of protection to include that class of people is helpful, or whether that would tend to dilute the focus on protecting human rights.

COHEN: When the guiding principles were first developed, there was a lot of discussion on how broad or how narrow the definition of an internally displaced person should be. And in part, this was based on the discussion of who was a refugee. And the refugee definition was tied to persecution and then more broadly to a conflict. This was based on a broader definition in Africa and also Latin America. So generally, we think of refugees as people who flee because of persecution or violence.

We broadened the definition of internally displaced persons to include natural disasters, and there has been a lot of controversy over whether Hurricane Katrina people are IDPs or not. The government—the U.S. government didn’t want to hear that these were IDPs, because IDPs are overseas somewhere. But we included natural disasters. And there were many debates about even broadening beyond just, you know, somebody who would be a refugee if they crossed the border. But we felt there were many human rights protection issues that also concerned people in natural disasters.

Now there is a discussion about environmental refugees, and part of that is natural disasters. So they are internally displaced persons if they’re forced from one part of the country to another because of a natural disaster, because of an environmental—something that’s out of their control.

I’m not sure about the refugee definition whether it should be broadened. I think we should sometimes, as you say, dilute. And I think for refugees outside of their country, I personally think the conflict and persecution are probably what it should be and that’s difficult enough. They are often blended now with migrants and those distinctions are not made. So I personally would favor the narrower refugee definition.

HAASS: You don’t oppose or support the idea that the U.N. high commissioner for refugees has taken on this role as sort of the U.N. high commissioner for IDPs?

COHEN: Oh, I support very much this comprehensive approach. I think that if you had a high commissioner just for internally displaced persons—first of all, it would be like a red flag. And then if you weren’t allowed into the country, who else would be able to deal with them? The idea—also, refugees and IDPs are often mixed together. And there are so many points where even refugees—returning refugees—becoming IDPs, IDPs become refugees, that it makes eminent sense to have not the same legal system but the same operational system. In my opinion, it’s both.

DENG: You know, when we started this, I talked to Mrs. Ogata because the idea of having the UNHCR assume responsibility was what we began with. I mean, the three options we suggested was creating a new agency for IDPs, which was quickly dismissed. Or designating one existing agency, which was UNHCR, to assume responsibility. Or there is a third alternative, the collaborative approach. Mrs. Ogata’s response to me when I tried to sound her out on this was, you know, I mean, if I were to agree to have IDPs, you’d be adding some 25 million people to 17 million refugees; there’s no way UNHCR can handle that. The secretary-general also said to me this problem is too big for one agency. Therefore, UNHCR assuming the responsibility must also be accompanied with giving it the capacity to be able to do this.

Richard, one important point that I always end my reports and my mission statements with a note that displacement is a symptom of something more. Even the conflicts that cause displacement are symptoms. Many of these are countries that are torn apart by crises. Again, I go back to crises of identity. They are marginalized people who do not enjoy the dignity of citizenship. In fact, I wrote an article in which I spoke of marginalization as a form of statelessness. The question is do we then come in—step into the vacuum to replace the governments, or do we make governments recognize that the structural problems that produce conflict, that produce displacement have to be addressed. And ultimately, if they live up to all the fundamental rights, all the human rights, that is the best way to prevent displacement, to respond to it when it takes place and to find durable solutions.

COHEN: Richard, you had asked earlier about what’s missing and I think preventive measures for all of this is what’s missing.

HAASS: You wanted to say something more on that.

COHEN: The idea of actually preventing crises. I mean, for example, what—the Security Council seems to be broken in many instances. Sri Lanka is on the brink of civil war. Are there any—I mean, there was the Scandinavian involvement in negotiations, but where is there some sort of international mechanisms or diplomacy or any kind of—something that will stop this from occurring and will prevent, again, large masses of displacement in the country. And that is a very big missing link. There is an adviser at the U.N. who is appointed to prevent genocide, which is almost—you just feel the title itself is so mission impossible. He’s creating some kind of a council. But should there be some kind of mechanism that alerts and that actually is connected to the Security Council or to—I mean, I’ve not thought through a mechanism—but that can give alert to preventing these situations from getting out of hand but really requiring all kinds of involvement of people that really do know conflict resolution and know that country and know how you possibly could use incentives and other things to stop that, and that is needed terribly.

HAASS: Your last point resonates strongly at the council since we have a Center for Preventive Action.

I feel badly. We’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of prevention, rulemaking, and we really didn’t talk a lot about response, what you actually do when bad things do happen.

All I can say is, I guess, three things. One is we will all have the chance to take the conversation, to continue it with both Roberta and Francis over a cocktail reception I think out there on the first floor in some of our other rooms. Secondly, when we set up this series in honor of Arthur, this is what we were hoping for, to take people who were working in similar vineyards with ideas but also with action, that blended the two. And thirdly, what we’ve had tonight is I think a good introduction to two remarkable individuals who have literally given years, even decades, of their lives to trying to make a difference.

So Roberta and Francis, thank you not just for tonight but thank you for all you’ve done. (Applause.)

DENG: Thank you very much.








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