UNHCR’s original core mandate covered only refugees, that is, all persons outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and who, as a result, require international protection. However, over time UNHCR’s mandate has been expanded to cover returnees and stateless persons. Although UNHCR does not have a general mandate for internally displaced people, UNHCR may be involved in certain circumstances to enhance protection and provide humanitarian assistance.
Given the particular character of refugees as people who lack the protection of their own countries, UNHCR was established as the legal entity to intercede on their behalf, as best illustrated by its supervisory responsibilities in respect of international refugee instruments.
UNHCR’s role in relation to States’ compliance with their international obligations towards refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless persons, is an integral part of the core mandate and directly linked to ensuring a principled application of the international protection regime. The rationale behind this role is that strengthened oversight by an international organization is indispensable for a predictable framework of international cooperation and to ensure the proper functioning of such a system.
UNHCR’s supervisory responsibility is set out explicitly in its Statute, as well as in Article 35 of the 1951 Refugee Convention and Article II of the 1967 Protocol, and requires all Contracting States to cooperate with UNHCR in the exercise of its responsibilities. UNHCR is therefore competent qua its Statute and international treaty law to oversee all instruments relevant to refugee protection. In essence, Contracting States undertake to cooperate with UNHCR in the exercise of its functions, and in particular with regard to the application of the provisions of these instruments.