IDP Laws and Policies

A mapping tool


Mapping national laws and policies on internal displacement

The development of laws and policies that address the plight of internally displaced people (IDPs) is becoming a global trend. National authorities are increasingly expressing their commitment to implementing the standards set out in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and other supranational instruments through the adoption of national laws, policies, decrees, protocols, strategies and action plans.

In mid-2015, the global protection cluster (GPC) task team on law and policy, co-chaired by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), started to collect information on national frameworks relevant to the phenomenon worldwide.

The information gathered so far reveals that countries respond to internal displacement in a variety of ways. Some develop legislation or implement policies that respond to existing and specific situations. Others adopt comprehensive laws and policies that address all aspects. A considerable number of countries are also using the Guiding Principles or the African Union Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, commonly known as the Kampala Convention, as points of reference in drafting national laws and policies.

National governments have made positive strides in addressing their IDPs’ assistance and protection needs, but our analysis reveals substantive issues and challenges in terms of law and policy that require their sustained attention.

Key gaps include a lack of provisions on assistance for those hosting IDPs, and the adoption of definitions of an IDP and solutions frameworks that are limited in scope, which in turn undermine efforts to address the causes of displacement. Some laws and policies fail to include detailed provisions on implementation and monitoring or the institutional arrangements necessary for doing so.

The absence of specific provisions to facilitate sustainable return, local integration or resettlement is also a common feature, and translating laws and policies into practice has proven a challenge. Structural problems, weak institutions, poor coordination and communication, and a lack of political will, funding and other resources are in many cases obstacles that impede implementation on the ground and mean that, despite adoption of relevant frameworks, in certain situations little difference is still made to the lives of tens of millions of people worldwide.


The initial mapping exercise conducted by IDMC consisted of desk research based on the collection of instruments and related information available online and via other sources, including databases such as the Brookings Institution’s index of laws and policies on IDPs. It also included the consolidation of law and policy data that IDMC gathers as part of its regular monitoring activities. During the subsequent phase of the study the research involved different UNHCR operations and Protection Clusters in countries affected by internal displacement. At this stage UNHCR staff was directly involved in researching and analysing a number of national instruments under the coordination of an international consultant.

Given the breadth of information assembled and the need to focus on normative developments covering internal displacement, GPC’s task team decided to establish a database accessible to policy-makers, humanitarian workers and practitioners and others working on displacement issues.

The database provides an overall view of the institutional response mechanisms governments have adopted, and information and analysis on areas of national regulation where intervention may be required to guarantee the application of the relevant normative instruments. Those planning to start a law or policy-making exercise, or are in the process of developing an instrument on internal displacement, may also find it a useful source of lessons learned in other countries and regions.

It should be noted that the mapping exercise and, as a result, the database focus mainly on normative instruments that emerged or are being developed in the context of policy-making exercises in countries affected by conflict or violence. Much of the normative efforts specifically targeting internal displacement and the existing literature on IDP legislation and policies focuses mainly on such instruments. Nevertheless, the database aspires to become the repository of all the frameworks that are relevant to displacement, including laws or policies on disaster management and of other themes strongly pertinent to IDP protection.


The database is divided into five sections:

  • Laws : laws on internal displacement
  • Policies: policies and other non-legally binding instruments on internal displacement
  • Processes: Laws, policies and other instruments under development or not yet adopted
  • Other normative instruments: laws and policies relevant but not specific to IDPs’ protection
  • The Kampala Convention and the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region (Great Lakes Pact)

Analytical questions

The country analysis on both laws and policies (Sections A and B) includes two main components.

  1. Process-related questions to collect information on the types of instrument in existence or under development, the current stage of the law or policy-making process and possible obstacles to implementation
  2. Substance-related questions to collect information on the main features of existing frameworks, including the institutional arrangements states have adopted to fulfil their primary responsibility for protecting IDPs in accordance with their international and/or regional obligations.

These sub-sections feature an overview of strengths and gaps in the national frameworks, both in terms of their content and implementation. They attempt to provide a first evaluation of national instruments’ level of compliance with international standards.

Additionally, the database contains a section on existing normative processes and one on other pertinent pieces of legislation and policies (Sections C and D, respectively). The former includes information on law or policy making exercises which will hopefully lead to the adoption of a national instrument on internal displacement: the Task Team on Law and Policy, in fact, has a clear interest in maintaining a close look at national normative agendas and possibly assisting governments in their endeavours. The latter section, instead, constitutes a residual category storing several relevant instruments: official governmental statements on the applicability of international standards, peace treaties binding the state to fulfil their obligations to IDPs and other legislation or policies that, though not specifically centred on displacement issued, may still assist in addressing IDP issues.

Kampala Convention and Great Lakes Pact

The fifth section of the database focuses on the progress made in Africa in setting up common frameworks to prevent and respond to internal displacement. The adoption of the Kampala Convention in October 2009 was an important milestone. Since then, the African Union (AU) and other regional, international and national stakeholders have been supporting states’ efforts to translate it into action, the first step being ratification.

The development by the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) of the Great Lakes Pact and its ten protocols, particularly those on IDPs’ protection and assistance and returnee’s property rights, is testament to its commitment to address the impacts of conflicts comprehensively and collaboratively. The universal endorsement of these instruments by the 12 states parties to the initiative following its adoption in December 2006 was the culmination of an important process. Additional action is required, however, to ensure continuity with ICGLR’s agenda.

The database is intended to provide periodic updates on the steps governments towards the ratification of the two regional instruments and to implement the commitments they made under them.

Resources & Initiatives

IDMC has been engaged in law and policy making support and advocacy through research, training and policy analysis for several years. The contents below represent some of our outputs in this thematic area, including the recent products IDMC contributed to in the framework of the partnership with UNHCR under the Global Protection Cluster – Task Team on Law and Policy.

Regional guidance and advocacy

Instruments for law and policy-making

Kampala Convention process

Country case studies


This page was produced with the financial assistance of the European Union.
The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union.


Global Protection Cluster – Task Team on Law and Policy

Daniel Macguire, Legal Officer - UNHCR