Publication Details

N. Kinchin, 'The implied human rights obligations of UNHCR' (2016) 28 (2) International Journal of Refugee Law


Amongst the discourse surrounding the potential for non-State actors to hold human rights obligations are complex questions around what those rights entail, where they derive from and in what circumstances they apply. In an attempt to add clarity to that discussion, this article identifies the implied powers of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) as a potential catalyst for the creation of its human rights obligations. As a subsidiary body of the UN, UNHCR is imbued with the capacity to hold human rights obligations through attribution and derivative international legal personality, as well as via its status as an organisation to which the 'general rules of international law' apply. UNHCR has implied powers to administer refugee camps and conduct Refugee Status Determination (RSD). It is argued that when the 'quasi-sovereign' character of camp administration is considered in light of the particular vulnerability of refugees' human rights, their protection cannot be separated from camp administration or from the camp administrator itself, meaning that UNHCR has an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of the inhabitants of the camps it administers. It is also argued that the unambiguous obligation for all parties that undertake RSD to respect non-refoulement, which is a human rights principle that is considered the 'cornerstone' of international protection, creates a concurrent obligation to ensure that RSD procedures are 'fair, efficient and effective'. Although the identification of rights obligations of non-State actors inevitably faces challenges from the lack of available remedies for individuals who seek liability for human rights breaches, as long as UNHCR undertakes activities that places it in direct contact with individuals, it is imperative that it retains limited human rights obligations that exist alongside of, and not in substitution for, those of States.



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