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UNHCR releases new guidelines on refugee claims related to military service

Briefing notes

UNHCR releases new guidelines on refugee claims related to military service

10 December 2013

UNHCR has released new guidelines on dealing with claims for asylum by people seeking to avoid recruitment by state armed services and non-state armed groups.

The updated guidelines provide advice to governments, legal practitioners and other bodies when considering claims to refugee status in accordance with the 1951 Refugee Convention. UNHCR hopes these policy guidelines will facilitate a consistent and principled approach to the adjudication of such cases by all states.

UNHCR recognizes that all countries have a right to self-defence under both the UN Charter and customary international law, and that states can require their citizens to perform military services. However this right is not absolute.

UNHCR's recommendations are that a claim for international protection - ie, refugee status - should be considered in the following five situations:

Firstly, where there is punishment that amounts to persecution for objecting to military service for reasons of conscience. Secondly, is a person who has objected to military acts that violate standards prescribed by international law.

Third, is objection to state military service in which the conditions amount to torture or other cruel or inhumane treatment. Fourth, is fleeing forced recruitment by a non-state group and where a state is unable to protect a person against such recruitment.

And fifth, are cases involving unlawful recruitment of children into military service or their being forced into hostilities.

UNHCR has issued these new guidelines in view of a number of changes in the practises of States and several restrictions placed on military service by international law.

The full guidelines are available at

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 3011