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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

11 September 1995

Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, 46th session
Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection, 27th meeting

11 September 1995


1. In its Conclusion No. 51 (XXXIX) of 1988, the Executive Committee requested UNHCR to provide it annually with information on specific refugee law promotion activities worldwide, including their financial implications on a regional basis. Each year since, UNHCR has reported on such activities through an Information Note submitted to the Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection. In keeping with the new instructions regarding Executive Committee documentation, this year's Note is brief, focusing on major world-wide and regional trends in the area of refugee law promotion, information dissemination and training, as they emerged or developed during 1995. It also signals ways and means in which the Division of International Protection intends to pursue these trends in the coming year.

2. The Division manages the UNHCR Central Fund for the Protection of Refugees in Various Countries. This project's approved budget for 1995 stands at $ 645,700, of which $ 330,000 have been earmarked for activities relating to the promotion of refugee law. It is evident, at the time of writing, that additional funds will have to be sought from the programme reserve during the last quarter of 1995, inter alia to finance the publication and dissemination of an updated and augmented edition of Collection of International Instruments concerning Refugees.

3. In addition to the above-mentioned fund, the Division manages a 1995 budget of $ 256,720 for protection training activities targeting UNHCR staff. In 1995, some 220 staff members will benefit from such training. While these activities indirectly serve the cause of promotion and dissemination - particularly where the emphasis is on training UNHCR trainers - they are not covered in this concise Note.


4. Last year's Note (EC/SCP/88) announced a set of measures aimed at delegating to Field Offices the financial management of protection training activities for non-UNHCR staff. This constitutes an important segment of UNHCR's refugee law promotion activities worldwide. As anticipated, the greater flexibility allowed by this delegation has resulted in an increase and diversification in the number of training activities undertaken in the field for the benefit of UNHCR's government counterparts and non-governmental partners, as well as for the refugee/returnee population itself. It has, on the other hand, complicated the task of assessing the overall financial implications of those activities, budgeted under a large number of country projects. The Division occasionally provides financial support to field promotion and training activities through the above-mentioned UNHCR Central Fund. This is particularly the case where planned activities cut across national or regional boundaries.

5. The Division's technical support to regional and national promotion initiatives consists in advising Field Offices regarding their strategies and planned activities, and in coordinating approaches at the regional level; in facilitating and fostering exchanges of information and documentation among Field Offices; and in training protection staff in acquiring or enhancing promotion and training skills and techniques. The Division is also responsible for the production and dissemination of practical tools - legal publications, course and conference outlines, training modules and data bases - to facilitate promotion work in the field. Two major training modules have been finalized in 1995, one on interviewing techniques, and the other on human rights and refugee protection. Work has started on the drafting of an advanced training module on refugee status determination, updating and supplementing the well-known basic module issued in 1989. Recent developments and prospects in the dissemination of data concerning refugee law by electronic means are set forth in paragraphs 18 and 19, below.

A. Africa

6. The number of promotional activities on the African continent continued to rise in 1995, in spite of the obvious difficulties caused by many pressing emergencies. Refugee law and protection courses have been or will be organized this year in Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Botswana, Cameroon (with the assistance of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada), Côte d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Somalia, South Africa, the Sudan, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zaire, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Other promotional activities are reported separately in the Information Note on Follow-up to the OAU/UNHCR Symposium on Refugees and Forced Population Displacements in Africa (EC/1995/SCP/CRP.5).

B. Asia and Oceania

7. In South-East Asia, UNHCR continues to implement a promotion strategy aimed at capitalizing on the positive legacy of the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indo-Chinese Refugees (CPA) with a view to establishing durable structures for refugee protection. To this end, UNHCR has strengthened its links with the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee, LAWASIA and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) network of Institutes of Strategic International Studies. The UNHCR-sponsored Consultations on Refugee Issues and Migratory Movements in South Asia, initiated at the end of 1994, are being gradually expanded with a view to establishing influential networks of "friends of protection" in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Refugee law and protection courses have been or will be organized in 1995 in Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam and Samoa.

C. Europe

8. In keeping with the conclusions of the International Symposium on Protection of Refugees in Central and Eastern Europe (Sofia, June 1994) - the proceedings of which were published in 1995 in UNHCR's "European Series" - a second International Symposium was organized by UNHCR in collaboration with the International Institute of Humanitarian Law (San Remo) in Warsaw in June 1995. This event provided an important forum for exchanges of views and information between government officials in Central and Eastern European countries, as well as a platform for the promotion and dissemination of international protection principles and standards.

9. Refugee law training has been carried out in cooperation with other international organizations, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Council of Europe, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), legal experts from various universities and governmental experts on a bilateral basis. Refugee law and protection courses have been or will be organized in 1995 in Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom. A considerable effort has been made in Europe to translate training and reference materials into national languages. Expenditures related to refugee law training and similar activities in Europe will amount to some $ 800,000 in 1995 - covered, in part by the budget of the Refugee Law Training Coordinator located in the Regional Bureau for Europe at Headquarters, and in part by country programme allocations.

D. The Americas

10. The tenth anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, commemorated with an International Colloquium held in San José, Costa Rica, in December 1994, was an important landmark in the promotion of refugee law in the Americas. The Colloquium, co-organized by UNHCR and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, adopted the San José Declaration on Refugees and Displaced Persons, which builds upon the principles affirmed in the Cartagena Declaration in order to address the new challenges of humanitarian action in the region. In 1995, refugee law and protection courses have been or will be organized in Argentina, the Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Uruguay, the United States of America and Venezuela.

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

11. The promotion and dissemination of refugee law and protection principles remains a priority for UNHCR in the region, particularly where UNHCR's presence is relatively recent, as in the Persian Gulf or in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Central Asia. UNHCR and the International Institute of Humanitarian Law (San Remo) will organize, at the end of 1995, an international refugee law course in Arabic, which is planned as the first in an ongoing series to be held at least once every year. At the national level, refugee law and protection courses have been or will be organized in 1995 in Cyprus, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakstan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Yemen.


A. The development of promotion networks

12. The promotion and training activities which UNHCR undertakes will be effective, in most cases, only if they mesh into broader, longer-term strategies, a crucial component of which is the development of networks capable of securing a multiplier effect for UNHCR's initiatives. Without claiming to be exhaustive, the paragraphs that follow highlight some of the more relevant networking efforts currently underway for the promotion and dissemination of refugee law and protection principles and standards. Emphasis is placed on initiatives and projects with a cross-regional vocation, which supplement and often bring together the regional and sub-regional networks referred to in the previous section.

13. The increasing involvement of UNHCR in emergency operations also involving civilian and/or military peace-keeping contingents has required that UNHCR tap a rapidly developing network of training institutions specializing in the areas of peace-keeping, peace-building and conflict resolution, with a view to disseminating UNHCR's mandate and protection principles to actual and potential actors in those complex emergencies. At the international level, UNHCR has cooperated with the United Nations Department of Peace-Keeping Operations in the design of a standard peace-keeping curriculum which has been put at the disposal of national and regional military staff colleges. UNHCR has also provided resource persons for training courses, targeting an international audience, organized by, among others, the Lester B. Pearson Canadian International Peace-Keeping Training Center, the NATO School at Oberammergau, Germany, and the Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution. In countries providing military contingents to United Nations Peace-Keeping Operations, UNHCR Representatives and Protection Officers have also provided regular or ad hoc inputs into the training of those contingents. Despite obvious limitations, training is also conducted in the field, within the operations themselves - for example, in 1995 UNHCR has undertaken a successful protection training programme for West African Economic Community Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) senior staff in Liberia.

14. Cooperation with NGOs in the area of refugee law promotion and protection training has received a significant boost from the PARinAC (UNHCR-NGO Partnership in Action) process, particularly through the establishment of PARinAC focal points and coordinators in the regions. In addition to being recipients of training, UNHCR's non-governmental partners are increasingly supplying networks for onward dissemination of the principles of international protection. In Central and Eastern Europe, as reported last year, but also increasingly in other regions, NGO staff are being trained as trainers. To assist in this process, the Division will supplement existing training material with a guide on the protection of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons. As proposed by the Oslo Declaration, the guide will be designed specifically for NGO staff who may be called upon to work in a refugee or displaced person environment. It should be available in early 1996.

15. A key objective of UNHCR's liaison activities with human rights institutions and mechanisms is to expand the Office's promotion network by emphasizing the convergence of international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international refugee law. Joint promotion and training initiatives have thus developed with an increasing number of human rights and humanitarian law institutes. These include the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in San Remo, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, the Raul Wallenberg Institute in Lund, as well as human rights centres or programmes attached to law faculties in several universities. Special mention should also be made of the excellent cooperation which UNHCR has enjoyed with the United Nations Centre for Human Rights and with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the preparation and delivery, in 1995, of human rights and humanitarian law training courses for UNHCR staff - notably in the context of operations in the former Yugoslavia.

16. Last year's Note introduced the topic of networking in the academic community for the advancement of refugee law teaching and related research. UNHCR's pilot project with the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies has come to fruition in 1995, resulting in the creation of a network of 20 universities interested or actively involved in teaching refugee law and/or other refugee-related subjects. These higher education institutions are located in Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, the West Bank (Israel), Jordan, Kenya, Malawi, Pakistan, South Africa, the Sudan, Thailand, Turkey and Zambia. This year, the first UNHCR Chair for Refugee Law was inaugurated at the National Law School of India University in Bangalore. An important activity of the Chair will be to develop a network with other institutions in the region with an interest in refugee law. While networking efforts have focused so far on universities using English as the main or sole teaching language, plans are underway for similar initiatives in French and Spanish-speaking regions, including through the use of remote-teaching techniques and tools.

17. While the pilot project described above has provided assistance in terms of teaching and reference materials, and while UNHCR Field Offices will continue to provide further support and technical advice, still more is needed in order to develop and coordinate these fledgling education programmes. The next phase of this academic networking project should involve, therefore, not only a growing number of universities in the Southern hemisphere, but also a cluster of more advanced and better equipped institutions in the Northern hemisphere, and it should foster North-South inter-university cooperation and exchange. This project stressing refugee law teaching will assume even greater relevance once it is integrated with overall UNHCR efforts to develop a network of research institutions, an initiative outlined in last year's Note.

B. Dissemination of refugee law by electronic means

18. Since April 1995, UNHCR has made the databases known as REFWORLD available to an extensive user network by creating a gopher site on the Internet. The wide range of refugee-related information on the REFWORLD gopher includes the legal databases REFINT, REFLEG and REFCAS described in last year's Note. It includes, in addition, the full text of UNHCR press releases; Conclusions on the International Protection of Refugees adopted by the Executive Committee; Notes on International Protection and other submissions to the Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection; and the High Commissioner's public statements. REFWORLD also contains the full text of both the English and French versions of the UNHCR Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for determining Refugee Status, a range of general reference information on countries of origin of refugees, and bibliographic information relating to refugee issues that constitute the collection of the Centre for Documentation on Refugees (CDR) library.

19. In order to ensure an even wider dissemination and easy access to the information contained in the databases, UNHCR has just completed its first REFWORLD CD-ROM, which will be made available to all UNHCR Headquarters and field office staff, as well as to Governments, universities, NGOs and individual subscribers. During 1995, CDR equipped 14 Branch Offices in Europe with Internet access and electronic mail (email). Similar cooperation with other Regional Bureaux is planned for 1996. CDR's Refugee Survey Quarterly has provided further means of disseminating refugee literature, and country and legal information. This new UNHCR publication focuses, inter alia, on such issues as internally displaced persons, the crisis in the Great Lakes region in Africa and refugee women. During the period under review, UNHCR further expanded its Information Exchange Agreements with the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada; the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service; the Federal Office for Refugees of Switzerland; the United Nations Centre for Human Rights; and the International Refugee Documentation Network.

C. Promotion of accession to international instruments

20. The promotion of accession to international instruments relating to the protection of refugees remains an essential component of UNHCR's protection function as per the Statute of the Office. By 1995, the number of States parties to the 1951 Convention and/or the 1967 Protocol has risen to 129, in addition to 41 States parties to the OAU Convention governing the specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa. In some regions of the world, however, only a minority of States are signatories, a situation requiring a major and systematic effort to disseminate the principles contained in those instruments and to encourage accession. In addition, UNHCR plans, with the Executive Committee's support, to translate its concern for the plight of stateless persons and its commitment towards the reduction and prevention of statelessness into a worldwide promotion drive for broader accession to the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons of 1954 and to the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness of 1961. UNHCR's position on this matter has been submitted by way of the Note on UNHCR and Stateless Persons (EC/1995/SCP/CRP.2).


21. The growing complexity of humanitarian crises and the grave protection problems which they entail, 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. While the task has become both more demanding and more necessary, the human and financial resources devoted to these activities have not been able to keep pace with the growth of UNHCR's programme and staffing levels. The development of external networks has certainly contributed to offsetting this disturbing imbalance. More often than not, however, the interest shown by these networks - particularly in the NGO and academic communities - needs to be nurtured, and their demands for information and documentation, as well as for institution-building support, need to be met consistently and effectively. At this particular juncture, it is clear that an effort is required in order to expand the geographical coverage of UNHCR's promotion activities, as well as to refine and diversify the tools that are put at the disposal of UNHCR staff and partners in the field.

22. In the face of these challenges, UNHCR is seeking the support of the Executive Committee for a broadened strategy in the area of refugee law promotion, dissemination and training. A key component of this strategy is the development of regional or sub-regional coordination mechanisms to serve as indispensable relays between the field and the Division, following the model already tested in Europe and in Latin America. UNHCR would also like to encourage information exchange, training and other types of agreements between States whereby less developed refugee eligibility and protection systems might benefit from the expertise developed elsewhere. These two complementary strategic elements were outlined in last year's Information Note.

23. While the above projects should have a positive impact, an overall prospective strategy obviously requires a more integrated approach. In the longer term, UNHCR can only fulfil its mandate to promote and disseminate refugee law and protection principles through an effective integration of the Office's activities in the areas of documentation, research, publishing, electronic dissemination and support to refugee law and refugee studies teaching. The Division and other relevant units in UNHCR would value the views and advice of interested members of the Executive Committee regarding ways and means to advance and support the proposed consolidation and integration of currently dispersed functions and projects.