Wednesday, June 27, 2012

CONFERENCE: Refuge from Inhumanity: Enriching refugee protection standards through recourse to international humanitarian law

CONFERENCE Refuge from Inhumanity: Enriching refugee protection standards through recourse to international humanitarian law

February 2013, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford and Refugee Law Initiative, University of London Hosted by All Souls College, Oxford


Jointly convened by two leading academic centres, the conference examines the potential of international humanitarian law as a means of enriching refugee protection standards.

International humanitarian law, human rights law, and refugee law are widely regarded as mutually reinforcing branches of international law. However, despite their proximity, the relationship between humanitarian law and refugee law is not fully understood. This paucity of knowledge contrasts sharply with the intense scrutiny to which the relationship of each to other relevant branches of international law has been subjected. On the one hand, human rights law is widely used to interpret and supplement refugee law. On the other, the interaction between humanitarian law and human rights law is a well-established field of enquiry for both academics and practitioners.

The expert contributions envisaged by this conference build upon the increasing current interest in the interaction between different branches of international law. At the same time, the conference breaks new ground through its focus on the relationship between humanitarian law and refugee law. In particular, it aims at taking stock of recent developments with a view to shedding a new light on the inter-penetration of refugee law with (i) jus in bello; (ii) the law of neutrality; and (iii) international criminal law insofar as it punishes acts occurring during armed conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have agreed to make substantive contributions to this reflection, which both organisations deem relevant to their mandates and practices.

Conference Scope

Two partly overlapping areas of influence form the object of study:

1. Interpretation of the refugee definition

The first area of influence concerns the interpretation of definitions of the concept of ‘refugee’ in universal and regional instruments, as well as ‘person eligible for subsidiary protection’ in European law. With regard to the interpretation of existing definitions of beneficiaries of international protection, the objective is to take stock of jurisprudence and doctrine, and to stimulate further reflection and convergent State practice, on the meaning of, inter alia:

• Persecution (in Articles 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention and 1(1) of the 1969 OAU Convention) in the light of both Article 3 common to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions, and the Statutes of international tribunals and the International Criminal Court, which include persecution in various contexts, including armed conflict, in the lists of crimes against humanity;

• Concepts from expanded refugee definitions such as external aggression, occupation, foreign domination, events seriously disturbing public order, generalized violence, and internal conflict (in Article 1(2) of the 1969 OAU Convention and/or Conclusion 3 of the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees) in light of relevant provisions of the law of war;

• Questions about the inclusion of combatants and the possible inclusion of child soldiers, deserters and draft evaders;

• Grounds for exclusion (under Articles 1F of the 1951 Convention and 1(5) of the 1969 OAU Convention), particularly for conduct that breaches the laws and customs of war; and

• Complementary protection provisions such as serious and individual threat to a civilian’s life or person by reason of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict (in Article 15 of the 2004/2011 EC Qualification Directive) in the light of relevant IHL provisions. These themes will be explored through papers presented by expert participants in two or three panels.

2. Protection obligations of States not engaged in hostilities

The second area of study concerns the clarification of the protection obligations of States not engaged in hostilities towards the displaced victims or potential victims of armed conflict. This second set of issues relates both to:

• The obligations, which the maintenance of neutrality may impose on neutral States upon receiving persons or groups of persons displaced by armed conflict in a neighouring country; and

• The non-refoulement potential of IHL principles and rules, notably those considered part of international customary law, i.e. the extent to which IHL entails a prohibition to return aliens to territories at war in which their lives, physical integrity or personal security would be at risk.

This last area is a resolutely novel step in legal research. Thus far, IHL and refugee or asylum law have largely been read as addressing similar protection concerns, but in entirely different contexts. That IHL may impose non-return obligations on States not directly involved in an armed conflict is not immediately apparent from a plain reading of its provisions – though it can be argued that such obligations are part of the duty to respect and ensure respect for humanitarian standards. In contrast, human rights law has already ‘penetrated’ refugee law significantly, therefore non-refoulement developments in human rights law – including the legal notion of ‘complementary protection’ will serve as a useful reference in this discussion.

These themes will be explored through papers presented by expert participants in two panels.

Expressions of Interest

Experts who wish to participate in the conference should address a written expression of interest directly to the convenors Jean-François Durieux (jeanfrancois. and David James Cantor ( at the earliest opportunity.


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