Non-refoulement

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Non-refoulement is a fundamental principle of international law which forbids a country receiving asylum seekers from returning them to a country in which they would be in likely danger of persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” (See Article 33 below).[1] Unlike political asylum, which applies to those who can prove a well-grounded fear of persecution based on certain category of persons, non-refoulement refers to the generic repatriation of people, including refugees into war zones and other disaster locales. It is a principle of both the customary and trucial law of nations.

In common usage, a push back is border control agents turning vessels around in international waters or expelling asylum seekers who have entered a border.[2][3][4][5]

It is debatable whether non-refoulement is a jus cogens (peremptory norm) of international law[6][7] that forbids the expulsion of a person into a jurisdiction, usually his or her home-country, where that person might be again subjected to persecution.

Relevant laws[edit]

  • The principle of "non-refoulement" was officially enshrined in Article 33 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Article 33 contains the following two paragraphs that define the prohibition of the expulsion or return of a refugee:
  1. No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
  2. The benefit of the present provision may not, however, be claimed by a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country.
"owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reason of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it."[1]
“No one seeking asylum in accordance with these Principles should, except for overriding reasons of national security or safeguarding the populations, be subjected to measures such as rejection at the frontier, return or expulsion which would result in compelling him to return to or remain in a territory if there is a well-founded fear of persecution endangering his life, physical integrity or liberty in that territory.”[8]
  • The United Nations General Assembly’s 1967 Declaration on Territorial Asylum adds the caveat that the asylum seeker must already be inside the country in which he is seeking asylum. It also allows countries to refuse entry to asylum seekers for certain causes, such as the entrance of an unfeasible number of asylum seekers at a given time.[9]
  • Article 22(8) of the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights establishes danger to an asylum seeker’s “right to life or personal freedom” as the threshold for non-refoulement among American states.[11]
  • Per Article 3(2) of the 1957 European Convention on Extradition and Article 4(5) of the 1981 Inter-American Convention on Extradition, the principle of non-refoulement also applies to extradition cases in which the person believes they will be tried or biased based specifically on one of the protected factors.[13]

Interpretations of Article 33[edit]

Though the principle of non-refoulement is a non-negotiable aspect of international law, states have interpreted this article in various ways and have constructed their legal responses to asylum seeker in corresponding manners.[14] The four most common interpretations are:

Strict:This interpretation holds that non-refoulement laws only apply to asylum seekers who have physically entered a state’s borders. State’s using this interpretation often enact policies and procedures designed to block asylum seekers from reaching their borders.[14]
Strict, with a narrow reading: This interpretation holds that only certain refugees are legally entitled to non-refoulement protection. If the country receiving an asylum seeker does not find that their “life or freedom would be threatened” by refoulement, this interpretation holds that they can be legitimately returned to their country of origin.[14]
Collectivist: This approach involves international systems designed to process the asylum claim in the country in which a person initially seek asylum and redistribute them among other countries. This approach relies on the logic that Article 33 does not include language requiring states receiving asylum seekers to permit them to remain permanently, only an obligation not to send them back to a region in which they face likely danger. Refugee relocation agreements between countries must ensure they are not sent back by the new host country. They new host country does not have to be party to the 1951 Convention, however.[14]
Collectivist, with laws preventing asylum seekers from reaching sovereign borders: This approach is not an interpretation of Article 33, but a way around it. It combines the strict and collectivist approaches. States using this approach establish non-sovereign areas within their borders, primarily at travel hubs. Asylum seekers presenting themselves at such areas are then sent to another country to have their asylum claims processed. As with traditional collectivism, the asylum seeker cannot be sent to a country in which they face likely danger.[14]

History[edit]

The principle of non-refoulement arises out of an international collective memory of the failure of nations during World War II to provide a safe haven to refugees fleeing certain genocide at the hands of the Nazi regime. Today, the principle of non-refoulement ostensibly protects persons from being expelled from countries that are signatories to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, or the 1984 Convention Against Torture. This, however, has not prevented certain signatory countries from skirting the international law principle and repatriating or expelling persons into the hands of potential persecutors.[15]

Examples of Violations of the Principle of Non-Refouelement[edit]

Thailand's forcible repatriation of 45,000 Cambodian refugees at Prasat Preah Vihear on June 12, 1979, is considered to be a classic example of refoulement.[15] The refugees were forced at gunpoint across the border and down a steep slope into a minefield. Those who refused were shot by Thai soldiers. Approximately 3,000 refugees died.[16]

Tanzania's actions during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda have been alleged to have violated the non-refoulement principle.[17] During the height of the crisis when the refugee flows rose to the level of a "mass exodus," the Tanzanian government closed its borders to a group of more than 50,000 Rwandan refugees who were fleeing genocidal violence. In 1996, before Rwanda had reached an appropriate level of stability, around 500,000 refugees were returned to Rwanda from Zaire.

One of the grey areas of law most hotly debated within signatory circles is the interpretation of Article 33 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Interdiction of potential refugee transporting vessels on the high seas has been a common practice by the U.S. government, in particular, raising the question of whether Article 33 requires a refugee to be within a country or simply within the power of a country to trigger the right against refoulement.[18]

The Australian Government has been accused by the UNHCR and more than fifty Australian legal scholars of violating the principle of non-refoulement, by returning 41 Tamil and Singhalese refugees to the Sri Lankan Navy in June or July 2014, as part of Operation Sovereign Borders immigration and border protection policy.[19] This action was followed in September 2014 by a Bill tabled in the Australian Parliament that would remove Australia's non-refoulement obligations, and sought to reinterpret Australia's international treaty obligations.[20][21]

See also[edit]

Literature[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Trevisanut, Dr. Seline (September 1, 2014). "International Law and Practice: The Principle of Non-Refoulement And the De-Territorialization of Border Control at Sea". Leiden Journal of International Law. 27 (3): 661. doi:10.1017/S0922156514000259. 
  2. ^ "Migrants: MEPs endorse search and rescue rules to prevent further deaths at sea". European Parliament. 
  3. ^ "US urges Asian nations not 'to push back' migrant boats". The Straits Times. 
  4. ^ "New EU rules to protect migrants outlaw 'pushback' operations". The Irish Times. 18 April 2014. 
  5. ^ "UN asks SE Asian nations to abandon migrant". timesofindia-economictimes. 
  6. ^ Jean Allain, 2001, "The jus cogens Nature of non‐refoulement", International Journal of Refugee Law, Vol. 13, Issue 4, pp. 533-558.
  7. ^ Kalin et al.; Zimmermann ed. (2011). The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and Its 1967 Protocol: a Commentary; Article 33, para. 1. New York: Oxford University Press Inc. pp. 1345–1346. ISBN 978-0-19-954251-2. 
  8. ^ Cambridge University Press, The Scope and Content of the Principle of Non-Refoulement: Opinion, June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/470a33af0.html [accessed 19 February 2017]
  9. ^ Cambridge University Press, The Scope and Content of the Principle of Non-Refoulement: Opinion, June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/470a33af0.html [accessed 19 February 2017]
  10. ^ Cambridge University Press, The Scope and Content of the Principle of Non-Refoulement: Opinion, June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/470a33af0.html [accessed 19 February 2017]
  11. ^ Cambridge University Press, The Scope and Content of the Principle of Non-Refoulement: Opinion, June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/470a33af0.html [accessed 19 February 2017]
  12. ^ Padmanabhan, Vijay m. (October 1, 2011). "To Transfer or not to Transfer: Identifying and Protecting Relevant Human Rights Interests in Non-Refoulement". Fordham Law Review. 80: 73-123. 
  13. ^ Cambridge University Press, The Scope and Content of the Principle of Non-Refoulement: Opinion, June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/470a33af0.html [accessed 19 February 2017]
  14. ^ a b c d e D'Angelo, Ellen F. (January 2009). "Non-Refoulement: The Search for a Consistent Interpretation of Article 33" (PDF). Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law. 42 (1): 279. Retrieved 21 February 2017. 
  15. ^ a b Marjoleine Zieck, UNHCR and Voluntary Repatriation of Refugees: A Legal Analysis, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1997; p. 147. ISBN 9041104097
  16. ^ Thompson, Larry Clinton. Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus, 1975-1982. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010. p. 175.
  17. ^ Ben Barber, "Feeding Refugees, or War?" Foreign Affairs, July/August 1997.
  18. ^ Refugee Protection: A Guide to International Refugee Law.
  19. ^ "Sri Lankan asylum seekers facing criminal investigation after being handed back by Australian authorities". ABC News. 
  20. ^ "Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014," ComLaw, accessed 27 November 2014
  21. ^ "Morrison's Power Grab," GetUp, accessed 27 November 2014

External links[edit]