UNHCR calls for stronger implementation of protection agreements

Setting the Agenda, 19 May 2010

© UNHCR/J.Redden
UNHCR helps in the registration of Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

TORONTO, Canada, May 19 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency is encouraging a wide-ranging debate on how to strengthen its supervision of international protection standards.

"Key to strengthening the implementation of the international protection regime, and in particular of the international instruments underlying it, is a robust exercise of UNHCR's monitoring and supervisory responsibilities," Volker Türk, director of UNHCR's Division of International Protection, told a major conference on forced displacement on Tuesday in Canada. "This conference offers a valuable forum to discuss this issue."

Türk told the gathering of scholars and international legal practitioners at York University in Toronto that UNHCR's role in supervising international protection standards was one of the bedrocks of international refugee protection. And he called for a debate on how to improve that role.

The senior UNHCR official was the keynote speaker on the first day of the four-day "York 2010 International Conference on Forced Displacement, Protection Standards, Supervision of the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol and Other International Instruments."

Türk said the lack of precise rules on how UNHCR is to supervise international agreements on treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and stateless had proved an advantage, allowing the organization the flexibility to develop new methods over the decades.

"UNHCR is not only an operational human rights agency for distinct groups of people but also in effect a treaty monitoring body in relation to various international and regional instruments covering the different groups of concern," he said. As a result, Turk added, UNHCR "is an actor on the international plane in its own right."

Türk acknowledged that UNHCR often faces an awkward balancing act, torn between the need to work with governments and the need to advocate sometimes publicly to honour international agreements. He said a name-and-shame approach to those violating treaty obligations could be counter-productive.

Türk called on the conference participants to discuss how to enhance UNHCR's role in supervising the international protection of forcibly displaced and stateless people. This, he said, should build on past experience while exploring new possibilities, such as the creation of consultative bodies.

"We need to remain the voice of reason, work constructively and cooperatively, and be guided by effectiveness, impact and results, as well as deep commitment to accountability towards populations of our concern," he said.

Read the entire speech




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Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

The 1951 Refugee Convention

The Geneva Refugee Convention has been instrumental in helping an estimated 50 million people restart their lives.

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

UNHCR's annual Nansen Refugee Award was posthumously awarded to Senator Edward Kennedy at a ceremony in Washington DC on October 29 for his life-long commitment to refugee rights. Kennedy's wife, Victoria, accepted the award on behalf of her late husband. In presenting the award, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, praised the "vision and commitment" of Senator Kennedy in his support for the displaced.

The prize money of US$100,000 will be donated to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, where it will be used to train the next generation of leaders dedicated to the cause of refugee advocacy. The Nansen Award is given to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. It was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian polar explorer, scientist and the first global High Commissioner for Refugees.

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

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Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

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