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Rule of Law and Transitional Justice

What We Do
© UNHCR / A. Webster

Respect for the rule of law and human rights forms the essence of the protection of refugees, returnees and stateless persons. Many of UNHCR's activities are therefore focused on assisting in the strengthening of legal structures that would enhance the rule of law on behalf of persons of concern to UNHCR.

In the execution of its mandate of providing international protection to refugees, UNHCR promotes the accession to international refugee instruments and other relevant human rights instruments. UNHCR provides technical legal support to national legal, administrative or judicial structures, including assistance in reviewing draft legislation. It also provides training to Government officials and promotes the inclusion of refugee and human rights components in training modules of police, immigration and judicial officials.

In the context of voluntary repatriation operations, effective promotion and protection of human rights, including through institutions that support the rule of law, are key to rebuilding the State after conflict and creating conditions conducive for return. From UNHCR's perspective, the core of voluntary repatriation is return in and to conditions of physical, legal and material safety, leading to full restoration of national protection. In countries of origin, legal systems - including traditional legal structures - often need to be revived and/or reformed. UNHCR identifies and works towards removing legal and administrative barriers to return. In close cooperation with other organizations, UNHCR provides expert advice and technical support for the drafting of legislation related to citizenship, property, documentation and return. UNHCR further is involved with the capacity building of the judiciary, including technical and material assistance as well as establishing mobile court projects where local resources do not allow full coverage in remote locations.

In order to support sustainable return, UNHCR is involved in the development of mechanisms promoting confidence-building and peaceful co-existence. Reconciliation is a process, internal between and within communities and requires a long term vision, but often in the early stages when a nation is emerging from a conflict situation, international support may be warranted to help take the first steps.

At the same time, UNHCR is actively involved in support of transitional justice. Post-conflict pursuit of accountability for gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law is widely considered as an essential element of conflict resolution and a means to bridge the gap between divided communities. Refugees, as victims of human rights abuses, have an interest in such activities, which will facilitate their process of re-integration.

Just as citizenship and the ability of people to realize the rights associated with nationality provide an indispensable element of stability to life, statelessness is a source of human insecurity, forced displacement and serious conflict which may also pose a threat to national and regional stability. As a result, clear nationality legislation and administrative practice that are in accordance with internationally recognized human rights standards are essential elements of the rule of law. Resolving situations of statelessness may be key to addressing root causes of conflict as well as for cementing reconciliation in post-conflict environments. UNHCR has been given the mandate to assist the plight of stateless persons, and actively promote the reduction of statelessness. In this respect, it provides technical advice and support to governments for the accession to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. UNHCR provides advice to governments on how to develop an effective legal framework to prevent and reduce statelessness and protect the rights of stateless persons. In addition, in recent years UNHCR has increasingly provided concrete operational support to States to resolve long-lasting or protracted situations of statelessness.




Stateless People

A tough task determining the true number of stateless people