Information Note: Documentation Recently Issued by the Division of International Protection
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER'S PROGRAMME STANDING COMMITTEE
28 March 1996
I. HANDBOOK ON VOLUNTARY REPATRIATION: INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION
1. In April 1992, the Sub-Committee on the Whole of International Protection agreed that it would be desirable for UNHCR to codify in a single document the existing protection principles and lessons learnt from the Office's operational experience with voluntary repatriation. The Sub-Committee noted that such guidelines should be sufficiently flexible to cover the various situations of refugee repatriation. Following extensive consultations with UNHCR staff both at Headquarters and in the field as well as NGOs and other UNHCR partners, a Handbook on "Voluntary Repatriation: International Protection" was issued on 15 April 1996. The Handbook, for the first time, codifies all the protection principles concerning repatriation and UNHCR's operational experience with voluntary repatriation in a single document focused on field- and action-oriented guidance as to how the principles of voluntary repatriation can be translated into practice.
2. A special focus of the Handbook is UNHCR's role in countries of origin. Since programmes have evolved into active assistance to and support for national protection, this is the first comprehensive analysis and description of the principles guiding this involvement, and describing the broad spectrum of UNHCR actions in countries of origin.
3. The Handbook is gender-sensitive, and encourages the user to ensure that repatriation-related protection and assistance are available to all refugees and returnees under conditions of social, economic, cultural and gender-based equity.
4. The Handbook is a public document aimed at enhancing consistency in the practice of actors working in the field of voluntary repatriation. It is, of course, specifically aimed at UNHCR staff, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Governments and other UNHCR partners.
II. INFORMATION AND ACCESSION PACKAGE: THE 1954 CONVENTION RELATING TO THE STATUS OF STATELESS PERSONS AND THE 1961 CONVENTION ON THE REDUCTION OF STATELESSNESS
5. Cognizant of the right of everyone to a nationality and concerned that statelessness, including the inability to establish one's nationality, may result in displacement, the Executive Committee at its forty-sixth Session requested UNHCR to actively promote accession to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. In view of the limited number of States parties to these instruments, the Executive Committee requested UNHCR to provide relevant technical and advisory services pertaining to the preparation and implementation of nationality legislation to interested States (A/AC.96/860, para 20).
6. UNHCR has launched an active campaign towards promotion of and accession to the 1954 and 1961 Conventions, an important element of which is the "Information and Accession Package: The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness". The Office has further cooperated actively with concerned Governments in the implementation of international legal principles relating to the exercise of an effective nationality and the prevention and reduction of statelessness, in promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the security of peoples, and stability in international relations. The Information and Accession Package is provided to all concerned parties to further of these goals.
III. UNHCR GUIDELINES ON DETENTION OF ASYLUM-SEEKERS
7. UNHCR has noted with concern that States are increasingly resorting to detention of asylum-seekers worldwide. Freedom from arbitrary detention is a fundamental human right and the use of detention is, in many instances, contrary to norms and principles of international law.
8. The Office has elaborated a number of principles and statements in relation to detention of asylum-seekers which are considered to be internationally recognized standards. Evolving State practice and legislation, particularly in Europe, have, however, highlighted the need for a comprehensive clarification by UNHCR of the scope of the Executive Committee Conclusion on the Detention of Refugees and Asylum-Seekers (A/AC.96/688, para.128), the situations in which detention can be employed, and the admissible duration and conditions of detention.
9. Based on the above Executive Committee Conclusion, a synthesis of existing UNHCR doctrine and provisions of international law relating to detention, the Division of International Protection issued "UNHCR Guidelines on Detention of Asylum-Seekers" in January 1996. These Guidelines represent minimum standards of what is considered by UNHCR to be acceptable State practice, and emphasize the need to utilize alternatives to detention whenever viable.
10. The Guidelines should be disseminated as an information and discussion tool to UNHCR staff, Governments, NGOs, private lawyers and academic institutions.
IV. UNHCR GUIDELINES ON PREVENTING AND RESPONDING TO SEXUAL VIOLENCE AGAINST REFUGEES
11. Since the Guidelines on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence against Refugees were released on International Women's Day last year, almost 8,000 copies in English have been disseminated to Governments, NGOs, the International Committee of the Red Cross, inter-governmental organizations and UNHCR offices throughout the world. The French version has recently been made available and has likewise been widely disseminated.
12. While it is difficult to measure the impact of a document such as this, UNHCR officers and staff of our implementing partners are using the Guidelines as an important tool in their daily work, where the focus is on preventing further incidents. The Guidelines form an integral part of on-going training activities which will now be enhanced following the release of the French version. Due to demand from the field, the Guidelines are also being translated into Spanish.
V. RESETTLEMENT HANDBOOK
13. To promote a better understanding of the complexities of the resettlement process, including the opportunities and constraints involved in using this instrument to ensure protection and durable solutions, the Resettlement Section of the Division of International Protection is updating the 1992 Guidelines in the form of a Resettlement Handbook. The Handbook is designed to allow for easy access to information on the objectives of UNHCR resettlement policy, referral and travel procedures, partnerships with Governments and agencies, as well as the programmes of resettlement countries.
14. The Resettlement Handbook will soon be available as a public document specifically aimed at UNHCR staff, Governments and NGO partners.
VI. INTERVIEWING APPLICANTS FOR REFUGEE STATUS (TRAINING MODULE)
15. In late 1995, UNHCR published a training module on "Interviewing Applicants for Refugee Status". This module is part of a series of training modules on protection issues. They include the Introduction to the International Protection of Refugees, Determination of Refugee Status and Interviewing in a Refugee Context, as well as the recently completed video on asylum procedures in Turkey.
16. Like other training modules, this new text has been designed to be user-friendly, and can be employed for self-study or as a basis for training activities. It covers topics such as preparing for and conducting an interview, barriers to communication, interviewing women and children, the outcome of the interview (notably assessing credibility), and security concerns. This training module is currently available in English and French and will soon be available in Spanish and Russian.
VII. HUMAN RIGHTS AND REFUGEE PROTECTION (TRAINING MODULE)
17. This training module, in two parts, is designed to help familiarize UNHCR staff with the principles and provisions of international human rights law and how they can be used to complement and enhance protection activities on behalf of refugees. With this in mind, the module is meant to be primarily a practical reference tool to which Protection Officers in the field and others engaged in protection activities can turn when faced with a situation affecting the human rights of refugees or groups of refugees. This module can be used for self-study and training activities and in this regard case problems and questions appear at the end of each chapter. Part I of the module deals with the general introduction to international human rights law, while Part II on specific issues covers a number of the most relevant topics facing Protection Officers including detention, refoulement, freedom of movement and women's and children's rights. Part I of the module is currently available in English. Part II will be finalized shortly.
VIII. COLLECTION OF INTERNATIONAL INSTRUMENTS AND OTHER LEGAL TEXTS CONCERNING REFUGEES AND DISPLACED PERSONS
18. The first edition of the Collection of International Instruments Concerning Refugees, published in 1979, was intended to be available as a reference book for those dealing with or concerned by the international legal framework for refugee protection. Since its initial publication, the Collection has become part of the basic documentation in use for briefings and training courses organized on promoting and disseminating refugee law as well as international human rights and humanitarian law. With the development of new legal instruments and standards and as a result of the inter-relationship and complementariness of these new instruments within the area of humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law, an expanded and updated version of the Collection was required and prepared. This new Collection, in two volumes (the first volume containing international and the second regional instruments), is currently available in English. A French version is under preparation.
IX. DOCUMENTATION ON REFWORLD/REFMONDE CD-ROM
19. UNHCR is also making available a great number of documents relating to international refugee law and protection principles on the REFWORLD/REFMONDE CD-ROM. All documents submitted to or emanating from the UNHCR Executive Committee and its Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection in 1995 have been included as have all conclusions adopted by Executive Committee to date. REFWORLD also incorporates a library of international and regional instruments relating to asylum and human rights in French and English including those featured in the Collection of International Instruments Concerning Refugees. Where applicable, every attempt has been made to include updated lists of ratifications and reservations. The above-mentioned Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation is scheduled to appear in the July 1996 issue of the CD-ROM and other training modules, handbooks and guidelines and information packages, as described above, will be included in future editions.