Disputation: Vikram Kolmannskog

Vikram Kolmannskog will defend his thesis for the degree of dr. Philos:

We are in between - Securing effective rights for persons displaced in the context of climate change and natural hazard-related disasters.

Vikram Kolmannskog

Copyright: Ida I. Bergstrøm

Trial lecture - time and place


Adjudication committee

Chair of defence

  Professor Inger Johanne Sand, University of Oslo


“Securing rights for environmentally displaced persons”

Every year millions are forced to flee their homes in the context of disasters associated with climate and natural hazards. It is unclear what their needs and rights are. This thesis seeks to help clarify the situation and secure effective rights. In order to do so, I explore the lives and rights of displaced people through interviews with them, government officials, UN and others. I also analyse relevant formal law.

Many of the displaced remain within their own country. The 1998 UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement apply to them. Still, some states don’t want – or are unable – to protect this group of people. When Hurricane Katrina hit the USA, it was the poor and Black population that was particularly affected. There was a breach of non-discrimination which is a fundamental human right and a principle that is mentioned in the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

Some people have to flee their countries. In contrast to some other lawyers, I conclude that the 1951 Refugee Convention and regional refugee laws are relevant. They don't explicitly mention climate, disasters or the like. But human rights violations and persecution – terms that are mentioned – regularly occur during disasters such as drought. Case studies from the Horn of Africa support this. However, people who formally qualify for refugee status may still face challenges related to shelter, training and livelihood, food security, health, safety and sexual violence, work, and freedom of movement. Finally, a large group of people will not be considered refugees by law. Human rights law may provide protection against forced return to the most extreme disaster situations, but little more.

Case studies in several African countries show that social, economic, political, and other factors influence the interpretation and application of law. They also show that the states and state laws may have little impact while the international and local levels – for example international organisations and clans – may be crucial in securing effective rights. In Europe there are elaborate asylum and refugee laws. At the same time xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiments are on the rise. Through visa regimes, agreements with transit countries and other measures European countries hinder many people from actually accessing the protection and rights that formally exist. We need a strategic use of existing law and to develop new law. At the same time, we must be aware that formal law does not provide the full solution; far from it. We must consider and address local contexts and a series of extra-legal factors to secure effective rights for the displaced people.

Published Jan. 9, 2014 2:39 PM - Last modified Jan. 14, 2014 2:54 PM