UNHCR’s protection guidelines: what role for external voices?
Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill (Emeritus Fellow, All Souls College, University of Oxford)
Public Seminar Series
Wednesday, 20 May 2015, 5pm to 6.30pm
Seminar Room 1, Oxford Department of International Development, 3 Mansfield Road, OX1 3TB
Hosted by Refugee Studies Centre
Seminar Series on Global Refugee Policy
Global refugee policy is a formal statement of, and proposed course of action in response to, a ‘problem’ relating to protection, solutions or assistance for refugees or other persons of concern to the global refugee regime. It is discussed and approved within UNHCR’s governing structures, and is intended to either limit the behaviour of governments or guide UNHCR’s activities. Despite the time and resources invested in the making, implementation and evaluation of global refugee policy, and concerns about the elements and implications of particular policies, our understanding of the process that leads to these policies at the global level, and factors affecting their implementation at the local level, is surprisingly limited.
Building on discussions at the RSC’s 30th Anniversary Conference and the December 2014 Special Issue of Journal of Refugee Studies on the topic, this seminar series will examine particular aspects of the global refugee policy process to further our understanding of how global refugee policy is made, implemented and evaluated, and the extent to which a more critical understanding of this process contributes to our ability to influence outcomes.
This week Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill (Emeritus Fellow, All Souls College) will speak on the topic 'UNHCR’s protection guidelines: what role for external voices?':
In 1977, as national refugee status determination procedures were gaining new life, State members of UNHCR’s Executive Committee asked the Office to provide guidance on the interpretation and application of the 1951 Convention/1967 Protocol. The outcome was the 1979 UNHCR Handbook, still widely cited in courts around the world, but substantially unchanged notwithstanding successive ‘re-issues’. Following adoption of its Agenda for Protection in 2000, UNHCR sought to keep up with jurisprudential developments and emergent issues by publishing supplementary guidelines, for example, on exclusion, gender, social group, and children; these were mostly drafted in-house, like the original Handbook, and without any formal input from States or other stakeholders. Following criticism of its 2013 guidelines on military service, however, UNHCR began to consider how external input could be usefully and effectively managed, for example, through the circulation of drafts for comment. Authoritative and influential guidelines will need a solid methodology when it comes to synthesizing best practice and pointing the way ahead, and UNHCR cannot just rely on its statutory and treaty role in ‘supervising the application’ of the 1951 Convention. In some respects, its task is analogous to that of the International Law Commission, incorporating both codification (identifying where States now see the law) and progressive development (showing how the law should develop consistently, if protection is to keep in step with need). So, what are the issues on which further guidance is needed today? What, if any, are the limits to interpretation, and when are new texts required? In drafting guidelines, who should be consulted? And how should others’ views and analysis be taken into account?
About the speaker
Professor Guy S. Goodwin-Gill is Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford. He is Professor of International Refugee Law at Oxford and was formerly Professor of Asylum Law at the University of Amsterdam. He served as a Legal Adviser in the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from 1976-1988. He practises as a Barrister from Blackstone Chambers, London, and he has written extensively on refugees, migration, international organisations, elections, democratisation and child soldiers. Recent publications include: The Refugee in International Law (OUP, 2007), 3rd ed. with Professor Jane McAdam; Free and Fair Elections (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2nd ed., 2006); and Basic Documents on Human Rights (OUP, 2006), 5th ed., with Ian Brownlie, eds.