Rule 132. Return of Displaced Persons
Rule 132. Displaced persons have a right to voluntary return in safety to their homes or places of habitual residence as soon as the reasons for their displacement cease to exist.
Summary
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts. The right to return applies to those who have been displaced, voluntarily or involuntarily, on account of the conflict and not to non-nationals who have been lawfully expelled.
International and non-international armed conflicts
The Fourth Geneva Convention provides that persons who have been evacuated must be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.[1]  The right to voluntary return in general is recognized in some other treaties, such as the Panmunjom Armistice Agreement and the Convention Governing Refugee Problems in Africa.[2]  The Universal Declaration on Human Rights recognizes that “everybody has the right … to return to his country”.[3]  According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country”.[4]  The regional human rights treaties contain a similar rule.[5] 
Several military manuals underline that displacement must be limited in time and that displaced persons must be allowed to return to their homes or places of habitual residence.[6] 
The right of refugees and displaced persons to return is also supported by numerous official statements, mostly relating to non-international armed conflicts, such as in Abkhazia (Georgia), Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Philippines and Tajikistan, and by other practice.[7]  This right is also recognized in several peace agreements and agreements on refugees and displaced persons, for example, with respect to the conflicts in Abkhazia (Georgia), Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Korea, Liberia, Sudan and Tajikistan.[8] 
The UN Security Council, UN General Assembly and UN Commission on Human Rights have on numerous occasions recalled the right of refugees and displaced persons to return freely to their homes in safety.[9]  The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement provide that “displacement shall last no longer than required by the circumstances”.[10]  In addition to the option of returning to their places of origin or of habitual residence, the Guiding Principles also provide for the right of displaced persons to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country.[11] 
No official contrary practice was found.
Measures to facilitate return and integration
The duty of the competent authorities to take measures to facilitate the voluntary and safe return and reintegration of displaced persons is provided for in the Convention Governing Refugee Problems in Africa and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.[12]  It is also contained in peace accords and other agreements,[13]  national legislation,[14]  official statements and other practice,[15]  resolutions of the United Nations and other international organizations,[16]  and resolutions and other documents adopted by international conferences.[17]  The UN Security Council and UN General Assembly, in particular, have on numerous occasions called upon parties to both international and non-international armed conflicts to facilitate the voluntary and safe return and reintegration of displaced persons.[18]  The UN Secretary-General and his Special Representative on Internally Displaced Persons have reported on measures taken or to be taken in the context of a number of conflicts to comply with the obligation to facilitate the voluntary and safe return and reintegration of displaced persons.[19] 
Examples of measures taken to facilitate the voluntary and safe return and reintegration of displaced persons include: measures to ensure a safe return, in particular mine clearance; provision of assistance to cover basic needs (shelter, food, water and medical care); provision of construction tools, household items and agricultural tools, seeds and fertilizer; and rehabilitation of schools, skills training programmes and education. A number of cases were found where displaced persons (or their representatives) were allowed to visit the areas of return prior to return to assess the situation with respect to safety and material conditions.[20]  Practice also indicates that amnesties are a proper measure to facilitate return as they can guarantee that no criminal proceedings will be brought against returnees for acts such as draft evasion or desertion, while excluding the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity (see Rule 159).[21] 
While the prohibition of adverse distinction applies to displaced persons in all circumstances (see Rule 88), there is also specific practice which underlines the importance that returnees not be discriminated against. Hence, all rules of international humanitarian law protecting civilians apply equally to displaced civilians who have returned.[22]  This principle has also been recognized in a number of treaties and other instruments,[23]  national legislation and official statements,[24]  and practice of the United Nations and international conferences,[25]  with respect to the conflicts in Central America, Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Liberia, Mozambique and the former Yugoslavia.

[1] Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49, second paragraph (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 38, § 682).
[2] Panmunjom Armistice Agreement (ibid., § 683), Article III(59)(a) and (b); Convention Governing Refugee Problems in Africa, Article 5(1) (ibid., § 686).
[3] Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Article 13(2) (ibid., § 692).
[4] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 12(4) (ibid., § 685).
[5] See Protocol 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 3 (ibid., § 684); American Convention on Human Rights, Article 22(5) (ibid., § 687); African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Article 12(2) (ibid., § 688).
[6] See, e.g., the military manuals of Argentina (ibid., § 699), Croatia (ibid., § 700), Hungary (ibid., § 701), Kenya (ibid., § 702), Madagascar (ibid., § 703), Philippines (ibid., § 704), Spain (ibid., § 705), United Kingdom (ibid., § 706) and United States (ibid., § 707).
[7] See, e.g., the statements of Angola (ibid., § 716), Brazil (ibid., § 717), Czech Republic (ibid., § 719), Egypt (ibid., § 720), France (ibid., § 721), Georgia (ibid., § 723), Honduras (ibid., § 724), Indonesia (ibid., § 725), Italy (ibid., § 726), New Zealand (ibid., § 727), Nigeria (ibid., § 728), Russian Federation (ibid., § 730), Tunisia (ibid., § 731), United Kingdom (ibid., § 732) and United States (ibid., § 733), the practice of the Philippines (ibid., § 729) and the reported practice of France (ibid., § 722).
[8] See Quadripartite Agreement on Georgian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, § 5 (ibid., § 788); Afghan Peace Accords, § 6 (ibid., § 798); Agreement on Refugees and Displaced Persons annexed to the Dayton Accords, Article 1 (ibid., § 789); Agreement on the Normalization of Relations between Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Article 7 (ibid., § 790); Panmunjom Armistice Agreement, Article III(59)(a) and (b) (ibid., § 786); Cotonou Agreement on Liberia, Article 18(1) (ibid., § 796); Sudan Peace Agreement, Chapter 4, § 3(a), and Chapter 5, § 2, (ibid., § 696); Protocol on Tajik Refugees, § 1 (ibid., § 695).
[9] See UN Security Council, Res. 361 (ibid., § 734), Res. 726 (ibid., § 735), Res. 779 and 820 A (ibid., § 736), Res. 859 (ibid., § 737), Res. 874 (ibid., § 738), Res. 896 and 906 (ibid., § 739), Res. 947 (ibid., § 740), Res. 993 (ibid., § 739), Res. 999 (ibid., § 741), Res. 1036 (ibid., § 739), Res. 1078 (ibid., § 742), Res. 1096 (ibid., § 739), Res. 1124 (ibid., § 739), Res. 1187 (ibid., § 743), Res. 1199 and 1203 (ibid., § 744), Res. 1225 (ibid., § 739), Res. 1239 and 1244 (ibid., § 744), Res. 1272 (ibid., § 745); UN Security Council, Statements by the President (ibid., §§ 746–750); UN General Assembly, Res. 48/116 (ibid., § 751), Res. 49/10 and 50/193 (ibid., § 752), Res. 53/164 and 54/183 (ibid., § 753); UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 1992/S-2/1 (ibid., § 756), Res. 1994/59 (ibid., § 754), Res. 1994/75, 1995/89 and 1996/71 (ibid., § 756), Res. 1997/2 (ibid., § 755), Res. 1998/79 (ibid., § 756) and Res. 1999/S-4/1 (ibid., § 757).
[10] Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Principle 6(3) (ibid., § 697).
[11] Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Principle 28(1) (ibid., § 800).
[12] Convention Governing Refugee Problems in Africa, Article 5 (ibid., § 787); Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Principle 28 (ibid., § 800).
[13] See, e.g., Panmunjom Armistice Agreement, Article III(59)(d)(1) (ibid., § 786); Quadripartite Agreement on Georgian Refugees and IDPs, § 5 (ibid., § 788); Agreement on Refugees and Displaced Persons annexed to the Dayton Accords, Articles I and II (ibid., § 789); Agreement on the Normalization of Relations between Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Article 7 (ibid., § 790); Agreement of the Joint Working Group on Operational Procedures of Return (ibid., § 791); Memorandum of Understanding between Iraq and the UN, §§ 2 and 3 (ibid., § 793); Joint Declaration by the Presidents of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Croatia (September 1992), § 2 (ibid., § 794); Joint Declaration by the Presidents of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Croatia (October 1992), § 3 (ibid., § 795); Cotonou Agreement on Liberia, Article 18(1) (ibid., § 796); Arusha Peace Accords, Article 23(D) (ibid., § 797); Arusha Protocol on Displaced Persons, Articles 36 and 42 (ibid., § 797); Afghan Peace Accord, § 6 (ibid., § 798); Sudan Peace Agreement, Chapter 4, § 6(iii)(1) (ibid., § 799); Cairo Plan of Action, § 70 (ibid., § 801).
[14] See, e.g., the legislation of Angola (ibid., § 803), Colombia (ibid., § 804) and Ethiopia (ibid., § 805).
[15] See, e.g., the statements of Afghanistan (ibid., § 807), Rwanda (ibid., § 811) and the practice of Peru (ibid., § 809), Philippines (ibid., § 810) and Turkey (ibid., § 812).
[16] See, e.g., UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 1996/71 (ibid., § 835), Res. 1999/10 (ibid., § 836) and Res. 2001/18 (ibid., § 837); Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly, Rec. 1376, 1384 and 1385 (ibid., § 853); OAU, Council of Ministers, Res. 1589 and 1653 (LXIV) and Decision 362 (ibid., § 854); OSCE, Final Declaration of the Kosovo International Human Rights Conference (ibid., § 855).
[17] See, e.g., 21st International Conference of the Red Cross, Res. X (ibid., § 856); 22nd International Conference of the Red Cross, Res. III (ibid., § 857); International Conference on Central American Refugees (CIREFCA), Declaration and Concerted Plan of Action (ibid., § 858); 88th Inter-Parliamentary Conference, Resolution on support to the recent international initiatives to halt the violence and put an end to the violations of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina (ibid., § 859); 89th Inter-Parliamentary Conference, Resolution on the need for urgent action in the former Yugoslavia ( ibid., § 860); Peace Implementation Conference for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chairman’s Conclusions (ibid., § 861); 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Res. I (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 862).
[18] See, e.g., UN Security Council, Res. 876 (ibid., § 814), Res. 882 and 898 (ibid., § 815), Res. 1009 (ibid., § 816), Res. 1034 (ibid., § 817), Res. 1075 (ibid., § 818), Res. 1088 (ibid., § 819), Res. 1120 (ibid., § 820), Res. 1124 (ibid., § 821), Res. 1199 and 1203 (ibid., § 822) and Res. 1272 (ibid., § 823); UN Security Council, Statements by the President (ibid., §§ 824–827); UN General Assembly, Res. 46/136 (ibid., § 828), Res. 48/116 (ibid., § 829), Res. 49/206 (ibid., § 830), Res. 50/193 (ibid., § 831), Res. 53/164 (ibid., § 832), Res. 54/183 (ibid., § 833) and Res. 55/116 (ibid., § 834).
[19] See, e.g., UN Secretary-General, Report on Cambodia (ibid., § 842), Report on the situation in Tajikistan (ibid., § 843) and Report concerning the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia (ibid., § 844); Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, Report on visit to Mozambique (ibid., § 845).
[20] See, e.g., Quadripartite Agreement on Georgian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, § 10 (ibid., § 867); UNHCR Executive Committee, Conclusion No. 18 (XXXI): Voluntary Repatriation (ibid., § 870); UN Secretary-General, Further reports pursuant to Security Council resolutions 743 and 762 (ibid., § 871); UN Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Former Yugoslavia (ibid., § 873); Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, Report on visit to Mozambique (ibid., § 874); Peace Implementation Conference for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chairman’s Conclusions (ibid., § 876).
[21] See, e.g., Quadripartite Agreement on Georgian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, § 3(c) (ibid., § 880); Agreement on Refugees and Displaced Persons annexed to the Dayton Accords (ibid., § 881); Protocol on Tajik Refugees, § 2 (ibid., § 882); UN Secretary-General, Further report on the situation of human rights in Croatia pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1019 (1995) (ibid., § 884); UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Statement before the UN Commission on Human Rights (ibid., § 885); UN Commission on Human Rights, Periodic report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Former Yugoslavia (ibid., § 886); Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly, Rec. 1385 (ibid., §§ 887).
[22] Convention Governing Refugee Problems in Africa, Article 5 (ibid., § 892); Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Principle 29(1) (ibid., § 899); UNHCR Executive Committee, Conclusion No. 18 (XXXI): Voluntary Repatriation (ibid., § 906).
[23] See, e.g., Quadripartite Agreement on Georgian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, § 3(a) (ibid., § 893); Cotonou Agreement on Liberia, Article 18(2) (ibid., § 898); General Peace Agreement for Mozambique (ibid., § 897); Agreement on Refugees and Displaced Persons annexed to the Dayton Accords, Articles I and II (ibid., § 894); Agreement of the Joint Working Group on Operational Procedures of Return (ibid., § 895); Sarajevo Declaration on Humanitarian Treatment of Displaced Persons (ibid., § 896).
[24] See, e.g., Colombia, Law on Internally Displaced Persons (ibid., § 901); Afghanistan, Letters addressed to the UN Secretary-General and to the President of the UN Security Council (ibid., § 903).
[25] See, e.g., UN Security Council, Statement by the President (ibid., § 905); UN Secretary-General, Further report on the situation of human rights in Croatia (ibid., § 907); International Conference on Central American Refugees (CIREFCA), Concerted Plan of Action (ibid., § 910).