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Human Rights & Refugees | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Human Rights and Refugees

What are the Human Rights of Refugees?

Human Rights are universal, and civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights belong to all human beings, including refugees and internally displaced people. Refugees also enjoy certain human rights specifically linked to their particularly vulnerable status, including the right to seek asylum, to freedom from forcible return, to freedom of movement, to a nationality, and to receive protection and assistance in securing their basic economic, social and cultural rights.

The Human Rights at Issue

The Human Rights of Refugees include the following indivisible, interdependent and interrelated human rights:

The human right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution.

The human right not to be forcibly returned to the country he or she is fleeing if such a return would pose a threat to the life, security, or freedom of the refugee.

The human right to freedom of movement, freedom to choose his or her residence, freedom to leave any country, including his or her own, and to return to his or her country.

The human right to freedom from discrimination based on race, colour, gender, language, religion, nationality, ethnicity, or any other status.

The human right to equal protection of the law, equal access to the courts, and freedom from arbitrary or prolonged detention.

The human right to a nationality.

The human right to life.

The human right to protection from torture or ill-treatment.

The human right to freedom from genocide and "ethnic cleansing".

The human right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, shelter and clothing.

The human right to work and to basic labor protections.

The human right to the highest possible standard of health and to access to health care.

The human right to live in a healthy and safe environment.

The human right to education -- to free and compulsory elementary education, to readily available forms of secondary and higher education, and to freedom from all types of discrimination at all levels of education. The human right to protection from economic and sexual exploitation, particularly for refugee women and children.

The human right to participation in decision-making which affects a refugee=s life, family, and community.

The human right to sustainable development.

The human right to peace.


Human Rights & Refugees | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Rights of Refugees

What provisions of human rights law guarantee the Human Rights of Refugees?

Includes excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment of Punishment, the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"No one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.... Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.... Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.... Everyone has the right to a nationality...."
--Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 9, 13, 14 and 15

"The Contracting States shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.... The ... States shall accord to refugees within their territories treatment at least as favourable as that accorded to their nationals with respect to freedom to practise their religion.... As regards housing, the ... States ... shall accord to refugees ... treatment ... not less favourable than that accorded to aliens generally in the same circumstances.... The ... States shall accord to refugees the same treatment as is accorded to nationals with respect to education.... the same treatment with respect to public relief and assistance.... the same treatment ... in respect of ... remuneration, hours of work,... minimum age of work, ... social security.... Each ... State shall accord to refugees ... the right to choose their place of residence and to move freely within its territory subject to ... regulations applicable to aliens generally.... No ... State shall expel or return ("refouler") a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.... The ... States shall ... facilitate the assimilation and naturalisation of refugees...."
--Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Articles 3, 4, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 33 and 34

"No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."
--Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment of Punishment, Article 3

"... the Detaining Power shall not treat as enemy aliens exclusively on the basis of their nationality... of an enemy State, refugees who do not, in fact, enjoy the protection of any government."
--Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Article 44

"Persons who, before the beginning of hostilities, were considered as stateless persons or refugees ... shall be protected persons..., in all circumstances and without any adverse distinction."
--Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, Article 73

"The ... States shall accord to stateless persons within their territories treatment at least as favourable as that accorded to ... nationals with respect to freedom to practise their religion.... A stateless person shall have ... the same treatment as a national in matters pertaining to access to the courts...; ... treatment ... not less favourable than that accorded to aliens generally ... as regards ... employment..... As regards housing, ... treatment ... not less favourable than that accorded to aliens generally.... The ... States shall accord to stateless persons the same treatment ... accorded to nationals with respect to elementary education...; ... the same treatment with respect to public relief and assistance...; ... the same treatment ... in respect of ... remuneration,... hours of work,... minimum age of employment..., and the enjoyment of ... collective bargaining; Social security (legal provisions in respect of employment injury, occupational diseases, maternity, sickness, disability, old age, ... unemployment, family responsibilities.... Each ... State shall accord to stateless persons ... the right to choose their place of residence and to move freely within its territory.... The ... States shall not expel a stateless person lawfully in their territory save on grounds of national security or public order. The expulsion of such a stateless person shall be only ... in accordance with due process of law."
--Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, Articles 4, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, and 31

"A ... State shall grant its nationality to a person born in its territory who would otherwise be stateless...; shall grant its nationality to a person, not born in the territory ... who would otherwise be stateless, if the nationality of one of his parents ... was that of that State.... A ... State shall not deprive a person of his nationality if such deprivation would render him stateless.... A ... State may not deprive any person or group of persons of their nationality on racial, ethnic, religious or political grounds."
--Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, Articles 1, 4, 8, and 9

"The ... Parties confirm that genocide ... is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish."
--Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 1

"Each State Party ... undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory ... rights ... without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.... Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall ... have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence. Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.... No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country. An alien lawfully in the territory of a State Party ... may be expelled ... only ... in accordance with law and shall ... be allowed to submit the reasons against his expulsion and to have his case reviewed by ... the competent authority.... All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals.... All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law...."
--International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 2, 12, 13, 14, and 26

"The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing...; ... recognize the right of everyone to the ... highest attainable standard of physical and mental health...; the right of everyone to education.... Primary education shall be compulsory and available free to all...."
--International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 11, 12, and 13

"States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue ... a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.... Each State Party undertakes to engage in no act ... of racial discrimination....; Each State Party shall prohibit and bring to an end ... racial discrimination by any persons, group or organization.... States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of ... political rights ... civil rights ... economic, social and cultural rights.... States Parties shall assure ... effective protection and remedies ... against any acts of racial discrimination...."
--Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Articles 2, 5, and 6

"States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality.... equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children."
--Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Article 9

"The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right to a name, ... a nationality.... States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee ... shall ... receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of ... rights.... States Parties shall provide ... cooperation in ... efforts ... to protect and assist such a child and to trace the parents or other members of the family of any refugee child ... for reunification with his or her family. In cases where no parents or other members of the family can be found, the child shall be accorded the same protection as any other child ... deprived of his or her family environment...."
--Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 7 and 22


Human Rights & Refugees | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Rights of Refugees

What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Rights of Refugees?

Includes commitments made at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul.

"The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms that everyone, without distinction of any kind, is entitled to the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution, as well as the right to return to one's own country.... The World Conference ... recognizes that ... a comprehensive approach by the international community is needed ... and ... should include the development of strategies to address the root causes and effects of movements of refugees and other displaced persons, the strengthening of emergency preparedness and response mechanisms, the provision of effective protection and assistance..., as well as the achievement of durable solutions...."
--Vienna Declaration, Part 1, para. 23

"Objectives ... : To reduce pressures leading to refugee movements and displacement by combating their root causes at all levels and undertaking related preventive action;.... To ensure effective protection of and assistance to refugee populations, with particular attention to the needs and physical security of refugee women and refugee children; .... To provide adequate health, education and social services for refugees and displaced persons.... Governments are urged to address the root causes of movements of refugees and displaced persons by taking appropriate measures, particularly with respect to conflict resolution; the promotion of peace and reconciliation; respect for human rights, including those of persons belonging to minorities; respect for independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of States. Moreover, factors that contribute to forced displacements need to be addressed through initiatives related to the alleviation of poverty, democratization, good governance and the prevention of environmental degradation. Governments and all other entities should respect and safeguard the right of people to remain in safety in their homes and should refrain from policies or practices that force people to flee...."
--Cairo Programme of Action, paras. 10.22 and 10.23

"We heads of State and Government ... will create ... action to: ... Create the political, legal, material and social conditions that allow for the voluntary repatriation of refugees in safety and dignity to their countries of origin, and the voluntary and safe return of internally displaced persons to their places of origin and their smooth reintegration into their societies."
--Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development, para. 26(t)

"Governments are urged to address the root causes of movements of refugees and displaced persons by taking appropriate measures, particularly with respect to conflict resolution; the promotion of peace and reconciliation; respect for human rights.... Governments and all other entities should respect and safeguard the right of people to remain in safety in their homes and should refrain from policies or practices that force people to flee."
--Copenhagen Programme of Action, para. 76(a)

"We ... commit ourselves to ...: Promoting shelter and supporting basic services and facilities for education and health for the homeless, displaced persons,... and people belonging to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, including temporary shelter and basic services for refugees.... We ... commit ourselves to: ... Providing continued international support to refugees in order to meet their needs and to assist in assuring them a just, durable solution in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions and international law."
--Habitat Agenda, paras. 40(l) and 41


For more information, please contact PDHRE

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org