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Information Note on UNHCR's Activities for Refugee Law Promotion, Dissemination and Training

Executive Committee Meetings

Information Note on UNHCR's Activities for Refugee Law Promotion, Dissemination and Training

6 September 1994

Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme
Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection
25th meeting

6 September 1994


1. Pursuant to Executive Committee Conclusion No. 51 (XXXIX) on Promotion and Dissemination of Refugee Law, this Note provides information on specific promotional activities world-wide, including their financial implications on a regional basis. This year's Note contains both a report and an evaluation of activities carried out by UNHCR in this area between July 1993 and July 1994. In addition, it outlines major trends and a number of specific proposals for developing and strengthening the promotion, dissemination and teaching of refugee law in future months.

2. The promotion of refugee law involves not only encouraging States to accede to the appropriate international legal instruments pertaining to refugees, but more generally promoting a wider knowledge and understanding of the basic principles of international protection. The ultimate objective of this exercise is to harmonize the perception of these principles and corresponding action to be taken, amongst government counterparts, NGOs, UNHCR and refugees alike.

3. With increasing demands being placed on the international community to find innovative responses to the protection needs of uprooted individuals and groups, the task of explaining, disseminating and promoting protection principles is both more necessary and complex. Last year's Note (EC/SCP/78) elaborated on the Office's focus on prevention and solutions and how this was being integrated into UNHCR's strategy for Refugee Law Promotion, Dissemination and Training. In addition, integrating dissemination and training into emergency response is proving to be increasingly complex given the constraints not only of time, but also of human and financial resources.

4. To be effective, a strategy of prevention, early response and solution needs to be based on a solid normative framework. Both UNHCR staff and partners need to be aware not just of refugee law, but also of international humanitarian and human rights law. Partnership is a crucial component of this strategy; therefore all actors both within and outside the United Nations system have to understand their respective mandates, operating methods and guiding principles.

5. The number of States acceding to the international instruments specifically designed for the protection of refugees has risen markedly in recent years. Less than 100 States were party to the 1951 Convention and/or the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees four years ago. At 31 July 1994 this number reached 127. Whilst UNHCR views this trend with satisfaction, it is important to stress that accession is not the only aim of UNHCR's promotional efforts. Many States that have acceded to international refugee instruments lack the administrative structures required to implement their provisions. There is also a need to train those charged with making decisions on admitting asylum-seekers and refugee status determination. Particular efforts must also be made to develop the non-governmental sector, which may often lack sufficient resources and experience in refugee issues. Information to refugees and asylum-seekers on procedures and their rights and duties is essential, as is raising awareness on these issues amongst the host communities through both formal and informal education and public information programmes.

6. In view of the constraints the Office is facing, challenged by numerous humanitarian crises, refugee law promotion, dissemination and training activities will be rationalized, in particular through networking and de-centralization. These measures are described in the following section.


A. Refugee law and protection training

7. The preparation and production of protection training materials remains a priority task for the Division of International Protection. UNHCR is in the process of finalizing two major training modules, one on interviewing techniques, and the other on human rights and refugee protection. Both will be disseminated by early 1995. The protection input into UNHCR's Emergency Management Training Programme has been revised in order better to reflect the new aspects of UNHCR's involvement in emergency situations, in particular in countries of origin. Elements of the protection training programme have also been introduced into training programmes in other areas of UNHCR's work. Furthermore a Handbook for military personnel in peace-keeping operations is nearing completion outlining UNHCR's mandate and operational activities.

8. The Division of International Protection, in close association with the Staff Development (formerly Training) Section, is increasingly emphasizing a "train the trainers" approach with a view to maximizing still scarce human resources and ensuring a multiplier effect for its training activities. In these efforts, the assistance of fully-trained UNHCR Refugee Law Training Officers in Europe and North America is very valuable. One example is that in the last couple of years, a joint UNHCR - European Consultation on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) project has allowed hundreds of non-governmental organization (NGO) staff in Central and Eastern Europe to acquire knowledge of refugee law and the skills required for refugee protection work, in addition to building up institution-building and management techniques.

9. As part of this networking strategy, UNHCR is responding to increasing requests from Governments for transfer of information to government agencies who deal with refugee issues, in particular in countries which have recently instituted refugee protection mechanisms. In February 1994, UNHCR and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding on training government officials and exchanging information. Other Governments have also released experienced staff to be trained as refugee officials, or offered internships for such officials to gain knowledge of law, procedures and criteria through direct contact with more developed administrative or judicial systems.

10. UNHCR's long-standing co-operation with the International Institute of Humanitarian Law (IIHL) in San Remo, Italy, has traditionally included the organization of refugee law courses for government officials from around the world. In 1993 and 1994, these courses have benefited from support by the Raul Wallenberg Institute of Lund, Sweden, both in financial terms and through the provision of resource persons. UNHCR and the IIHL are planning, for the first half of 1995, a refugee law course in Arabic, to be held in Arabic speaking countries, as part of a promotion drive for the Cairo Declaration on the Protection of Refugees and Displaced Persons in the Arab World, adopted in November 1992.

B. Management and programming aspects

11. Protection training represents an ever-growing part (close to 60 per cent in 1994) of all activities carried out by UNHCR to train its government counterparts, its non-governmental partners and the refugee/returnee population itself. It is, in effect, a key component of the protection strategies of most field offices. This has led the Division of International Protection and the Division of Programme and Operational Support, in coordination with the Staff Development Section, to adopt measures aimed at ensuring a more systematic incorporation of those activities into the overall objective-setting and programming exercise undertaken by field offices. It was specifically decided that, effective 1995, protection training activities for non-UNHCR staff in the field would be budgeted and implemented under operational projects according to priorities defined in the respective Country Operations Plans. This measure represents a departure from past and current practice whereby most training activities, whether they target UNHCR staff or UNHCR's partners, are budgeted under a central project administered by the Staff Development Section at UNHCR Headquarters.

12. This measure of decentralization is intended to maximize the effectiveness of refugee law and protection training in the field through a closer connection between specific protection activities and the overall programme orientations of the respective Field Offices. It will also assist UNHCR Representatives and Protection Officers in planning and monitoring training activities as an integral part of their country operations. At the same time, this approach requires the establishment of an appropriate system for quality and consistency control, as well as for the identification of support requirements in terms of materials and technical guidance. Such a system is being gradually put into place through the establishment of regional coordinators for refugee law promotion, dissemination and training. Following a model tested in Europe and Central Asia, two new posts of coordinator will be operational in the second half of 1994 (for the republics of the former Yugoslavia) and in the first half of 1995 (for Latin America). Similar developments are planned for several regions of the African continent.

C. Activities undertaken jointly with other institutions

13. In addition to activities carried out on its own initiative, UNHCR also endeavours to increase its participation in promotion and training activities organized by other organizations or institutions, or by Governments. Such participation aims at emphasizing the interface between the international protection of refugees and other humanitarian or human rights concerns and mandates. Examples of this are UNHCR's continuing cooperation with the IIHL (San Remo), the Graduate Institute of International Studies (Geneva), the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (San Jose,) and several other institutions dedicated to the promotion and/or teaching of international humanitarian law in its broadest sense.

14. Within the United Nations system, UNHCR is increasing its participation in dissemination and training activities undertaken by the Centre for Human Rights, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and the Department of Peace-Keeping Operations (DPKO). Cooperation with DPKO, initiated in 1993, has resulted in a preliminary training package for peace-keeping contingents, incorporating several segments on international humanitarian and refugee law standards and the specificity of humanitarian operations. In this undertaking, as well as in the context of their respective training programmes, UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are increasingly involved in joint activities.

D. Refugee law teaching and research

15. Refugee law is not commonly taught as a subject by itself in higher education institutions. Over the years, however, with active UNHCR support, several refugee law courses and seminars have been organized by renowned law faculties, mainly in Western Europe and North America, or even by regional lawyers' networks such as the European Legal Network (ELENA). A priority objective for UNHCR is the development and dissemination of refugee law, beyond these valuable initiatives.

16. UNHCR has therefore entered into an arrangement on a trial basis with the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London to develop multi-disciplinary curricula on refugee issues, including refugee law, to be made available to interested universities in English-speaking countries of Africa and Asia. The project, which will complete its first phase at the end of 1994, also includes active networking among universities on these continents, as well as support towards establishing or expanding law libraries. Resources permitting, it will be supplemented by internships and other forms of inter-university exchanges.

17. Last year's Note introduced UNHCR's proposed activities in the area of research, stressing that a coherent promotion and dissemination policy could only benefit from rational research management within UNHCR. In the legal, as well as in other fields, UNHCR is interested in enhancing its capacity to generate research, to have access to and support external research, and to absorb research findings into its policy and decision making process. With the benefit of a grant from a private foundation, UNHCR is currently exploring the four areas identified in Last year's Note, namely the definition of a research agenda for UNHCR; the establishment of a database of current research both inside and outside UNHCR; the development of a network of research institutions for coordination of activities and dialogue; and the institution of a mechanism to feed research findings into UNHCR's strategic planning and policy-making process. This project is expected to come to fruition during the course of 1995.

E. Liaison with human rights institutions and mechanisms

18. At the request of the Executive Committee, UNHCR has continued to participate actively in human rights fora, both within and outside the United Nations framework. This crucial liaison function serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, it is intended to raise awareness of the relationship between refugee issues and broader human rights concerns - particularly those related to the right to seek and enjoy asylum, and the right to freedom of movement, including the right to return and the right to remain in one's place of habitual residence. On the other hand, closer contact between UNHCR and existing human rights mechanisms strengthens the ability of the United Nations as a whole to address complex humanitarian problems in a more comprehensive manner. It also enhances the ability of UNHCR staff to use human rights instruments and mechanisms in pursuit of the Office's protection mandate.

19. In this connection, UNHCR takes an active part in the deliberations of the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. In recent years it has increased its cooperation with the Committee of the Rights of the Child, the Committee against Torture, the Human Rights Committee and the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in addition to a number of Working Groups and other mechanisms. In the field, UNHCR staff interact routinely with the human rights mandates of Rapporteurs, Representatives and Experts, and with human rights monitoring missions wherever deployed.

F. Dissemination of refugee law by electronic means

20. The aim of the Centre for Documentation on Refugees (CDR), within UNHCR's Division of International Protection, is to provide UNHCR and other interested bodies and individuals with an authoritative collection of relevant refugee literature, country and legal information. The Office is highlighting the growing importance of electronic databases for the promotion and dissemination of refugee law. CDR maintains four databases with a clear legal focus: REFINT and REFLEG contain, respectively, the texts of international legal instruments and national legislation dealing with refugees and asylum-seekers. REFCAS is a collection of case law from an ever expanding number of countries. As from 1993, the Division of International Protection started developing a Refugee Law and Policy Database (REFLAP), to serve as a repertory of institutional memory on a number of protection issues. An International Refugee Thesaurus is also regularly updated, with the assistance of external advisers, to control terminology used for indexing purposes in the databases.

21. During the period under review, UNHCR continued to take steps towards expanding both the network of sources for accurate, up-to-date information, and the network of database users. CDR now has Information Exchange Agreements with the Immigration and Refugee Department of Canada; the US Immigration and Naturalization Services; the United Nations Centre for Human Rights in Geneva; and the International Refugee Documentation Network (IRDN), a worldwide network of organizations and institutions concerned with the collection and treatment of refugee and human rights documentation established in 1986 to facilitate the global exchange of refugee-related information. CDR has continued to coordinate the International Refugee Electronic Network (IRENE), a communications project of IRDN. IRENE allows for simple, cost-effective dissemination in electronic form of refugee-related information, press releases, and announcements for seminars and conferences by means of bulletin boards and e-mail. To extend access to the databases, CDR worked closely with the Regional Bureaux to provide the databases and appropriate training to some 40 Branch Offices in the field. Selected governments and NGOs have also been granted access to the databases as part of a pilot project; an expansion of the project is envisaged for the future.


22. The training activities described in this section were implemented in close cooperation with the Staff Development Section, which provided technical advice and assisted the Division of International Protection in developing course contents. During the period under review, as explained in paragraph 11 above, the majority of protection training activities world-wide were budgeted under a central fund administered by the Staff Development Section. In some instances, funding was provided through a regional project or special programmes. The Division of International Protection funded promotional activities other than training, particularly where such activities cut across national or regional boundaries. Private and government contributions to locally conducted training activities are not accounted for in this section, nor is supplementary funding out of UNHCR country programmes or field offices' administrative budget allocations.

A. Africa

23. In spite of the number of emergency situations, significantly more promotional activities were conducted throughout the region than in previous years. In 1994, the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention governing specific aspects of the refugee problem in Africa provided an overall framework for such activities. Refugee law and protection courses, sometimes combined with emergency management and/or community services training, were organized in Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, the Republic of South Africa, Senegal, Sudan, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Other promotional activities in preparation for the colloquium marking the anniversary of the OAU Convention are reported separately in the Information Note on Activities Undertaken to Commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the OAU Convention (EC/1994/SCP/CRP.7).

24. Overall expenditure for refugee law/protection training activities in Africa during the reporting period amounted to $ 126,000.

B. Asia and Oceania

25. With the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indo-Chinese Refugees (CPA) gradually phasing out, promotional efforts in Asia and Oceania are being reoriented towards establishing durable structures for refugee protection, paying particular attention to regional traditions. UNHCR has supported initiatives by the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee for the development of a model legislation on refugees. It has also intensified contacts with the academic community, particularly in the Indian sub-continent, and with NGOs through the PARINAC process. Refugee law/protection courses were organized in Australia, Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Nepal, the Philippines and Thailand.

26. Overall expenditure for these activities in Asia and Oceania during the reporting period amounted to $ 72,500.

C. Europe

27. In collaboration with the IIHL in San Remo, UNHCR organized a meeting of government officials from Central and Eastern Europe, with the participation of some Western European Governments, in Sofia in June 1994. In April 1994, another seminar gathered international law experts from the region to discuss 'Nationality and Statelessness in the former Soviet Union'. Follow-up activities are being planned to both events. In addition to such UNHCR-sponsored activities, the Office took advantage of every possible forum - including, inter alia, the Council of Europe, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and ECRE - to promote protection principles and comprehensive approaches to refugee problems.

28. In keeping with its strategy of giving priority to promotion and networking, the Regional Bureau for Europe intensified refugee law training activities throughout Western Europe. In all countries of the sub-region, large numbers of government officials, judges, lawyers and NGO staff participated in systematic training programmes. UNHCR contributed mainly resource staff, and materials and overall expenditure for these activities during the reporting period did not exceed $ 80,000.

29. Technical assistance, including refugee law/protection training, continued to be provided to governments in Central and Eastern Europe. In Central Europe, the emphasis shifted from merely transferring knowledge and increasing public awareness to institution-building and programmes which focused on training trainers and also targeted NGOs. By the same token, a second generation of seminars was inaugurated in the NIS of the former Soviet Union, following a first round of induction courses in refugee law, human rights and migration issues, which had been held in 1993.

30. UNHCR developed and started implementing refugee law promotion and training programmes in all States of the former Yugoslavia as an integral part of the ongoing Special Operation. Such activities will be greatly facilitated by the forthcoming establishment of the sub-regional coordination referred to in paragraph 12 above.

D. The Americas

31. In keeping with Conclusion on the International Conference on Central American Refugees, (CIREFCA) adopted by the Executive Committee at its forty-fourth session, UNHCR disseminated widely the norms and principles of international protection implemented within the framework of CIREFCA. The updated document on principles and criteria for the protection of, and assistance to, refugees, returnees and displaced persons prepared by UNHCR with a group of Latin American experts for the closing event of CIREFCA in June 1994 provides UNHCR staff in the region with a useful instrument for the promotion of refugee law and protection principles. The commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees is expected to serve as a springboard for the dissemination of these principles throughout Latin America. A meeting of governmental and academic experts and UNHCR protection staff was organized in Mexico in March 1994, laying the groundwork for a regional colloquium to be held in Costa Rica in December 1994. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights in San Jose, regarding the organization of this colloquium.

32. Refugee law/protection training seminars have been held in Argentina, the Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico and Venezuela. In Canada and the United States of America, intensive refugee law training activities continued, targeted at asylum adjudicators, lawyers and advocacy groups and other NGOs.

33. Overall expenditures for refugee law/protection training activities in the Americas during the reporting period amounted to $ 133,700.

E. South West Asia, North Africa and the Middle East

34. Promotion and dissemination of the Cairo Declaration on the Protection of Refugees and Displaced Persons in the Arab World was the subject matter of a workshop, organized by UNHCR and the IIHL in Amman in February 1994. Arab experts who had contributed to the elaboration of the Cairo Declaration and UNHCR protection officers in the region decided to encourage the publication of refugee law articles in Arabic and to organize their dissemination, and they requested the IIHL to organize in 1995 a first regional refugee law course in Arabic. Contacts with the academic and research community were intensified with a view to developing a promotion network in the region.

35. Refugee law/protection training seminars were organized in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. Overall expenditure for these activities during the reporting period amounted to $ 47,700.


36. The growing diversity and complexity of humanitarian emergencies and the accompanying protection problems, as well as the need for comprehensive approaches to their solution, require that refugee law promotion and dissemination activities be intensified and constantly adapted to emerging needs. UNHCR is committed to exploring, with the support of the international community, every opportunity for developing partnerships and networks in this endeavour. At the same time, the Office intends to improve its staffing and programming efforts in particular so as to be able to coordinate and improve local and regional efforts in this area. UNHCR hopes that the necessary resources can be put at its disposal to develop further these essential components of its international protection mandate.