Monthly Archives: September 2012

New Book: UNHCR and International Refugee Law

(cross-posted from Forced Migration Current Awareness)

(This Note was contributed by Corinne Lewis, a former legal officer with UNHCR, who now works in the area of business and human rights law. She is currently drafting a book for Advocates for International Development that provides guidance to law firms on the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.)

I am delighted to have an opportunity to provide information about my book UNHCR and International Refugee Law: From Treaties to Innovation, which was just released by Routledge this summer.

Following nearly ten years of work as a legal officer with UNHCR, with posts in Headquarters in Geneva and in the field, I decided to couple my practical experience with research done in connection with my PhD thesis in order to have a more global understanding of UNHCR’s role related to international refugee law. This book builds upon a number of preliminary ideas I had, which were published in an article in the International Journal of Refugee Law in 2005, titled “UNHCR’s Contribution to the Development of International Refugee Law: Its Foundations and Evolution.”

In the book, I focus on the ways in which UNHCR contributes to the creation of refugee law and works to ensure that States actually implement such law in their policies as well as their practices. In general, the book attests to the organisation’s dynamic contribution to the evolution of international refugee law and thus, the law’s continued viability in protecting refugees.

Specifically, the book addresses four questions:
1. What are the foundations for UNHCR’s role related to the development and effectiveness of international refugee law?
2. What are the formal and informal means that have facilitated the adaptation of UNHCR’s role?
3. How has UNHCR influenced the development of international refugee law?
4. How has UNHCR enhanced the effectiveness of international refugee law?

The initial two chapters consider the basis for UNHCR’s role related to international refugee law. The responsibilities that UNHCR was assigned concerning refugee law in its statute were greatly influenced by the mandates and work of the refugee organisations that preceded UNHCR. These refugee law responsibilities relate to two key areas: the development of international refugee law and ensuring the effectiveness of such law.

However, these responsibilities are not static, but have evolved during the more than 60 years of UNHCR’s existence as UNHCR has dealt with new movements of refugees, changes in States’ willingness to accept refugees and their treatment of asylum-seekers. Therefore, Chapter 3 considers the formal statutory means and UNHCR’s implied powers, which facilitate the changes in UNHCR’s role.

Chapter 4 examines how the crisis in international refugee law and refugee protection, which began in the 1980’s, brought to the fore the weaknesses in refugee law and the problems with States’ respect of such laws. The measures that UNHCR then undertook to address such weaknesses and to attempt to ensure that States respect international refugee law are considered in Chapters 5 and 6 respectively.

The final chapter, Chapter 7, weaves the observations from the first six chapters into an overview of UNHCR’s interaction with international refugee law and then suggests how UNHCR should extend and strengthen its role related to international refugee law.

I am greatly indebted to so many former colleagues in UNHCR who work tirelessly on behalf of refugees throughout the world and from whom I continue to learn. I hope that this book assists them and others working with refugees to have a greater understanding of how UNHCR influences the content of refugee law and works to ensure States’ respect for such laws so that this role can be further enhanced in the future.

 

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New UNHCR Detention Guidelines

UNHCR’s Division of International Protection has just released the following publication:

Detention Guidelines: Guidelines on the Applicable Criteria and Standards relating to the Detention of Asylum-Seekers and Alternatives to Detention (UNHCR, 2012)

With the aim of guiding governments and decision-makers, here is the stated scope of the guidelines (p. 8):

These Guidelines reflect the state of international law relating to detention – on immigration-related grounds – of asylum-seekers and other persons seeking international protection. They equally apply to refugees and other persons found to be in need of international protection should they exceptionally be detained for immigration-related reasons. They also apply to stateless persons who are seeking asylum, although they do not specifically cover the situation of non-asylum-seeking stateless persons, persons found not to be in need of international protection or other migrants, although many of the standards detailed herein may apply to them mutatis mutandis. This is particularly true with regard to non-refugee stateless persons in the migratory context who face a heightened risk of arbitrary detention. The Guidelines do not cover asylum-seekers or refugees imprisoned on the basis of criminal offences.

The volume proceeds to set out 10 guidelines and includes an Annex which outlines alternatives to detention.

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Guidelines for the Protection of People Fleeing Violence and Conflict

(cross-posted from the Forced Migration Current Awareness blog)

In his introductory statement to the 54th meeting of EXCOM’s Standing Committee, the director of UNHCR’s Division of International Protection referenced the evolving and complex nature of armed conflict and violence. In the interest of determining how best to protect those who flee from such situations, he noted that

…UNHCR will develop guidelines on how international and regional refugee instruments apply to people fleeing violence and conflict across international borders. They will also identify in detail those who may not necessarily be covered by existing instruments and explore possible alternative frameworks or approaches in such instances. This research thus fits within broader discussions on protection gaps and temporary protection that we looked at as part of the commemorations cycle (p. 11).

Three papers that have been published so far in this context include:
– The Causes, Character and Conduct of Armed Conflict, and the Effects on Civilian Populations, 1990-2010 (UNHCR, April 2012) [text]
– The 1951 Refugee Convention and the Protection of People Fleeing Armed Conflict and Other Situations of Violence (UNHCR, Sept. 2012) [text]
– Women and Girls Fleeing Conflict: Gender and the Interpretation and Application of the 1951 Refugee Convention (UNHCR, Sept. 2012) [text]

These titles have been issued as part of the Legal and Protection Policy Research Series.

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Seeking Climate Change Refugee Status

A question was posted on the Forced Migration Current Awareness blog about whether or not this report in the Huffington Post referenced the first time that someone has applied for asylum using climate change as the basis for their claim.  Jane McAdam, an international law expert at the University of New South Wales, Australia, very kindly provided a response. She wrote to say that her book, Climate Change, Forced Migration, and International Law (Oxford Univ. Press, 2012), references other refugee cases that have involved climate change claims. In her chapter on “The Relevance of International Refugee Law,” she notes that previous claimants have mainly come from Tuvalu, Kiribati, and Tonga and have attempted to seek protection in Australia and New Zealand (p. 47). She goes on to list the various decisions that have been issued by the NZ Refugee Status Appeals Authority (now the Immigration and Protection Tribunal) and the Australian Refugee Review Tribunal in a footnote on the same page. None have been positive.

A list of climate change-related cases is also provided in an earlier paper by Jane, entitled “Climate Change Displacement and International Law: Complementary Protection Standards.”

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