International Human Rights And Refugee Laws

Refugees are people who have crossed an international frontier and are at risk or have been victims of persecution in their country of origin. Internally displaced persons (IDPs), on the other hand, have not crossed an international frontier, but have, for whatever reason, also fled their homes.

Refugee law

The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa – and the mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provide the main framework for protection and assistance for refugees. Refugees are also protected by general human rights law, and if they find themselves in a State involved in armed conflict, by international humanitarian law.

Internally Displaced Persons

There is no convention for IDPs equivalent to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Nonetheless, international law protects persons from displacement and once they are displaced under several bodies of law, IDPs are protected by international human rights law and domestic law, The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which are based on these two bodies of law, provide useful guidance on displacement-specific aspects. The people are protected from and during displacement as civilians, provided they do not take a direct part in hostilities.

Refugee law plays an important part in preventing displacement in the first place. It prohibits the displacement of people except if it is necessary for imperative military reasons or the protection of the civilians themselves. A widespread or systematic policy of displacement of civilians without such justification constitutes a crime against humanity. It protects the civilian population and their violation often constitutes a root cause of displacement. For instance, attacks by parties to an armed conflict on civilians and civilian objects are forbidden, as are indiscriminate methods of warfare that may have an adverse impact on civilians. Other rules whose respect will prevent displacement include the prohibition of acts that threaten the civilian population’s ability to survive such as destruction, without valid military reason, of crops, health facilities, water and power supplies or dwellings.

Humanitarian Relief

International humanitarian law guarantees access for relief and humanitarian organizations to refugees and IDPs in situations of armed conflict. Parties to a conflict must facilitate the supply of relief materials such as medicines, food, blankets and tents.

What Rights Do Refugees Have?

Refugee law and international human rights law are closely intertwined; refugees are fleeing governments that are either unable or unwilling to protect their basic human rights. Additionally, in cases where the fear of persecution or threat to life or safety arises in the context of an armed conflict, refugee law also intersects with international humanitarian law.

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