Protection of internally displaced persons: soft law as a norm-generating mechanism

Abstract. Internal displacement is increasingly perceived as an international problem. This
has led to suggestions that international norms have begun to govern state behaviour towards
their own displaced populations. I argue that this change occurred through the innovative use
of soft law, in particular the guiding principles on internal displacement, by a consortia of
norm entrepreneurs including NGOs and a UN Office, that of the Representative of the
Secretary-General for Internally Displaced Persons. As soft law, these principles lack the
usual markers which suggest an emerging norm. Instead, the article argues that alternative
methods – including the international recognition of the principles and their adoption in
domestic legislation – has triggered a change in state behaviour. This is demonstrated by
examining two cases of forcible return of IDPs – the closure of the Kibeho Camp in Rwanda
in 1995, before the principles were created, and the closure of the Znamenskoye camp in
Ingushetia, Russia in 2002, after their creation. Both situations are similar in that the norm
appears to have been rejected – forced repatriation did occur. In the Russian case, however,
government statements, along with widespread international condemnation of the closures,
suggest rhetorical instantiation of a norm of non forcible return for IDPs.

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