1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol

Topic #2: What does the United Nations require the states that signed the Convention to uphold? In what ways does the Convention assist the states that signed?

In this short review, I will briefly explain the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states. The 1967 Protocol removed geographical and temporal restrictions from the Convention.  Both documents define a refugee’s obligations to their host countries. Moreover, both the 1951 and the 1967 Protocol contains 3 types of provisions that are important to understand. The first provision is giving the basic definition of who is, and who is not a refugee, and who, having been a refugee has ceased to be one. The second provision defines the legal status of refugees and heir rights and duties in their country of refuge.

First and foremost, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted by a conference of Plenipotentiaries of the United Nations on the 28th of July 1951 and entered into force on 21st of April 1954.The 1951 document defines refugee as “a person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution”. People who fulfill this definition are entitled to the rights and bound by the duties contained in the 1951 Convention.

The 1951 Refugee Convention contains a number of rights and also highlights the obligations of refugees towards their host country. The first right is called the principle of non-refoulement, which means a refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom. The second right is the right not to be expelled except under certain strictly defined conditions. The third right is the right to education. The fourth right is the right to access the courts. The fifth right is the right to work. Lastly, the refugees’ right to freedom of movement within the territory.  Initially, the 1951 Convention was more or less limited to protecting European refugees in the aftermath of World War II. The 1967 Protocol expanded its scope and removed its geographical and temporal restrictions, turning the Convention into a truly universal instrument, as the problem of displacement has spread around the world.

States are predominantly responsible for protecting the fundamental human rights of their citizens. When they are unable or unwilling to do so, more often for political reasons or discrimination, individuals may suffer serious violations of their human rights. They may have to leave their homes, their families, and their communities to find safety in other countries. If this transpires, then protecting those individuals becomes the responsibility of the international community. However, there are certain reasons why refugees can be excluded from claiming refugee status, i.e; refugee protection. One of the examples is if the refugees have committed a crime against peace, a war crime, a crime against humanity or a serious non-political crime outside their country of refuge then they will have to be excluded from the protection.

There are many States that have signed both the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol, such as France, Iran, Nigeria, Russia, Turkey, and the United States. When a State agrees to the 1951 Convention, it demonstrates its commitment to treating refugees in accordance with internationally recognized legal and humanitarian standards. The 1951 Convention is not designed to tackle the root causes of people’s flight: human rights violations, political or armed conflict in their home country. It was conceptualized to alleviate the consequences of these problems by offering victims a degree of international legal protection and other assistance and eventually help them begin a new life.

The refugee phenomenon is one of truly global significance, affecting not only millions of marginalized people directly but also the policies and practices of virtually every government in the world. The main difference between the two documents was the notion of dateline; the 1967 Protocol included refugees from all countries appose to the 1951 Convention that only included refugees from Europe. Today, the 1951 United Nations Convention and the 1967 Protocol together remain the foundation of refugee protection, and their provisions are as relevant now as when they were drafted.

 

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