The aim of this paper is to clarify the correct interpretation of Article 31 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the 1951 Refugee Convention). The interpretation proposed is based on the binding international precepts relating to treaty interpretation, as reflected in Articles 31 to 33 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT). The paper draws on the contemporary practice around Article 31 by States parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol, clarifying where those interpretations are correct, and where State practice appears to depart from the obligations in Article 31. The aim of the paper is ultimately to inform UNHCR when developing guidelines on Article 31. In terms of identifying pertinent State practice, particular attention is given to higher court rulings of national courts interpreting Article 31.
UNHCR, Division of International Protection