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Writing 101: Refugees, Rights, And Rhetoric

Course W101 Spring 2024 Nitrin Luthra. While using the lens of forced migration and statelessness, this course will focus primarily on the rhetorics of statelessness.

Annotated Bibliographies

When you Investigate a very complex international topic, you might find it useful to scan an specialized annotated bibliography for a quick summary of research trends and important books and articles. Here is one example of an essay on a type of displacement. Searching the Obford Bibliographies for Refugee will yield other summary articles.

Internal Displacement

Sanjula WeerasingheElizabeth Ferris
  • DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199743292-0110


While people have always fled their communities because of war, violence, persecution, and disasters, until the early 1990s international attention largely focused on those who had crossed an international border as refugees rather than those who remained within the borders of their country. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) pressed the UN Commission on Human Rights to recognize the needs of this particular group of people, and in 1992 the Commission named a Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons (RSG) and the following year asked him to review international norms relevant to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and to identify gaps. The RSG presented a set of Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (Guiding Principles) in 1998 that were affirmed by the World Summit of 2005. The Guiding Principles have served as the basis for the development of standards at the regional level, notably the African Union, and for national governments seeking to ensure that the rights of those displaced within their borders were respected and upheld. National governments bear the primary responsibility for protecting and assisting IDPs. From the beginning, international efforts to assist IDPs have thus been based on the principle of national sovereignty and the recognition of state responsibility, an understanding reflected in the Guiding Principles. Much of the early work on internal displacement sought to raise awareness of the scope of internal displacement and the needs of IDPs, and focused on the applicability of the normative framework. As international awareness grew about the needs of IDPs, humanitarian actors carried out further conceptual and operational work. Who in the international community would be “responsible” for IDPs? The description of IDPs in the Guiding Principles includes those displaced not only by conflict, generalized violence, and massive violations of human rights, but also those displaced by human and man-made disasters. The initial focus of scholars and practitioners alike was on those displaced by conflict. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, considerable effort was devoted to understanding the particular needs of those displaced by disasters and later by climate change. While a separate stream of research, spearheaded by the World Bank, had focused since the 1980s on people resettled because of development projects, such as dams, it was not until the early 2000s that links began to be drawn between those displaced by development projects and those displaced by conflict. This article seeks to provide an overview of the literature on IDPs, with a focus on normative and institutional frameworks, tensions and debates, overarching studies, and resource materials. Due to limitations of space, this review does not include the many individual case studies on IDPs, nor many related thematic issues.

Early Writing and General Overviews

In the early 1990s, a number of authors began to write about the phenomenon of internal displacement, raising awareness of its scale and presenting the case for international efforts to respond to the needs and uphold the rights of this particular group of people. Beginning with Deng 1993, later presented in Cohen and Deng 1998a, this theme was picked up by major institutional players, including the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Global IDP Project (later to become the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre; see Global IDP Project 2002) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA; see No Refuge: The Challenge of Internal Displacement). Korn 1999 summarizes early understandings of these developments for a general audience, while both Cohen and Deng 1998b and Vincent and Sorensen 2001 provide collections of case studies of particular national displacement situations. Phuong 2004 provides an overview of the emerging legal norms related to internal displacement. Additional sources related to these thematic issues are also found in the section on Development of the Guiding Principles.


  • Cohen, Roberta, and Francis M. Deng. Masses in Flight: The Global Crisis of Internal Displacement. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1998a.

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    A 414-page detailed and extensive policy-orientated analysis of the causes and consequences of internal displacement and pertinent political, normative, and institutional architecture; chapters describe IDPs and the evolution of international concern; examine the legal framework, institutional arrangements, role of NGOs, and regional responses; and present recommendations for addressing the problem.