"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
Around the world Amnesty International continues to document serious violations of the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The reluctance of states to provide access to procedures and effective protection to individuals who are forced to leave their homes and places of origin remains of concern to the organization. As an observer at the 56th session of the Executive Committee (EXCOM) of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Amnesty International takes the opportunity to present its concerns on some of the major contemporary challenges in international refugee protection.
Amnesty International reminds the members and observers of the EXCOM and the UNHCR that the purpose of international protection is fundamentally to enable a refugee to have access to and to enjoy full respect for her human rights, including through the principle of non-refoulement. However, an unbalanced focus by the international community on refugee numbers and statistics frequently downplays and obscures the human rights of the human beings behind these figures; including when, in the words of the Note on International Protection(1), “"some politicians and elements of the media play on xenophobic fears and [seek] to reduce asylum-seekers and refugees to statistics which must be kept down.”"
While much is made of the large numbers of refugees returning, or being expected to return, to their country of origin; such as for example in the case of Afghanistan or Sudan, the mere fact of the return of large numbers does not in itself guarantee that the return is sustainable and is taking place in safety and dignity. Nor does such return guarantee that the individual returnee will be protected; including being able to work, to educate her children, to be free from gender-based violence. Equally, while searching for a durable solution, the plight of the individual refugee and her protection needs must remain at the centre of any response. Rushing to achieve solutions which are unlikely to prove durable in the long term or to place refugees at risk must be avoided, by host states and by the international community, and it is also necessary to ensure that solutions are not imposed on individuals.
In this document, Amnesty International sets out four thematic areas that are of pressing concern to the organization, illustrated by specific situations in countries that the organisation has either visited or engaged in research and advocacy in the period since the last meeting of EXCOM. These thematic areas are; protection from refoulement, access to procedures, access to solutions, and protection of IDPs.
1. Protection from refoulement
“"Reaffirms the fundamental importance of the observance of the principle of non-refoulement…of persons who may be subjected to persecution if returned to their country of origin irrespective of whether they have been formally identified as refugees.”"(2)
The fundamental principle of non-refoulement prohibits the return in any manner whatsoever of any person to a situation where she would be at risk of torture or other serious human rights violations. Threats to or breaches of this principle have been an especially worrying feature of the practice of states in the last year. Amnesty International is concerned that refugees and asylum seekers on a number of occasions have been threatened with or have been forced to return to a situation where they are at risk of torture or other serious human rights violations. The organisation reminds member and observer states that the principle of non-refoulement is a norm of customary international law from which any departure is prohibited. In addition, Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture (CAT), to which a significant number of EXCOM member and observer states are parties, prohibits the expulsion, refoulement or extradition of any person to a situation of torture. The absolute prohibition on torture and ill-treatment includes an absolute prohibition on transferring any person to any state where there is a risk that they will be tortured or subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. This is especially relevant in cases where diplomatic assurances(3) are sought in order to bring about the return or transfer of persons, including asylum seekers. Amnesty International is of the view that states which violate international law and systematically torture or ill-treat detainees also systematically deny it and take steps to hide it. Therefore, any assurances made by those states that a person will not be tortured or ill-treated cannot be treated as reliable. On May 20, 2005, the UN Committee Against Torture ruled in the case of Agiza vs. Sweden that “"[t]he procurement of diplomatic assurances, which, moreover, provided no mechanism for their enforcement, did not suffice to protect against this manifest risk [of torture upon return].(4) Amnesty International has documented cases of the return to torture and ill-treatment of persons, including asylum seekers, following the acceptance of diplomatic assurances by the sending state.(5)
3. Access to solutions
"The ultimate goal of international protection is to achieve a durable solution for refugees.”"(11)
While emergency assistance and protection that is provided in the immediate aftermath of a crisis is indispensable to protect the lives and dignity of displaced persons, Amnesty International is concerned that far too often refugees are forced to live for years in a protracted situation and, while waiting for a durable solution, they are unable to exercise their fundamental human rights. The organization believes that refugees should be granted timely and durable access to protection, including a secure legal status that will enable them to assert their fundamental human rights, and seek effective redress if these are denied to them.(12) The three durable solutions, of voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement, are all essential tools in the provision of protection to refugees, and it is essential that all three are utilised as appropriate to each specific refugee situation. This includes taking into account as far as possible the intentions of the individual refugee, including determination of the best interest of the child. As with the provision of refugee protection, Amnesty International considers that the identification of durable solutions should involve participation from the refugee herself, in recognition of the fact that the human rights and inherent dignity of the refugee require her participation in identifying a solution to her plight.
The organization hopes that the Conclusion on Local Integration that should be adopted by this EXCOM will highlight the importance of this durable solution in resolving the plight of significant numbers of refugees who are currently living in a situation of limbo for protracted periods of time in countries of asylum. While self reliance is an important tool on the road to achieving a durable solution, Amnesty International does not believe that it can or should in itself constitute a solution or indeed provide a substitute for the international protection to which all refugees are entitled. The organization also reminds member and observer states to EXCOM that international human rights law obliges state parties to uphold the fundamental human rights to which all refugees are entitled by virtue of their humanity, including the right to work and the right to an adequate standard of living, regardless of whether these are being provided in the context of self reliance or a durable solution.
3.3 Protection gaps while in search of a solution– the case of non-ID Palestinian refugees in Lebanon
Lebanon is host to over 400,000(17) Palestinian refugees, most of whom arrived, or are descendants of refugees who arrived in 1948. A large majority is registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and with the Lebanese government. However, a small proportion is not registered with either UNRWA or the Lebanese government; they have an estimated population of 3,000 to 5,000(18) (this group is often referred to as non-ID Palestinian refugees). They receive no assistance from UNRWA and face a host of restrictions on their access to fundamental rights due to discriminatory Lebanese laws and a lack of official registration. Many non-ID refugees have lived in Lebanon for decades and are married to registered Palestinian refugees. However, their children are not recognized as registered Palestinian refugees, and therefore are discriminated against in the exercise of some of their fundamental rights. These refugees have fallen into a particularly iniquitous protection gap, and Amnesty International believes it is of vital importance that a debate is started as a matter of urgency within the international community, including the relevant UN agencies, host states and other relevant states including member and observer states to EXCOM, as well as NGOs, in order to find solutions to bridge this protection gap. Such solutions should ensure that no group of Palestinian refugees is left in a situation where they receive neither international protection nor assistance.
Amnesty International believes that durable solutions respectful of the human rights of Palestinian refugees must be made available to them in any final peace agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Amnesty International recognizes that voluntary repatriation or return in safety and dignity is in general the preferred durable solution for refugees. The right of return(19) is enshrined in international law and the organisation believes that Palestinian refugees should be able to exercise their right of return to their homes and lands.
Amnesty International believes, however, that until such time as this right is fulfilled, Palestinian refugees should benefit from civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural rights in their host countries, including, but not limited to, the right to work, the right to education, the right to healthcare, the right to adequate housing and the right to an adequate standard of living.
In addition to restrictions that affect the exercise of human rights by all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, such as restriction on their right to work, rights at work and housing rights,(20) non-ID Palestinian refugees are subject to additional restrictions due to lack of registration. The following are some of the human rights that are specifically denied to non-ID Palestinian refugees.
Amnesty International has documented cases of non-ID Palestinian refugees who are unable to get married or to get their marriages registered as they do not possess the necessary documentation. Lebanon has an obligation to ensure that all men and women of marriageable age within its jurisdiction can get married in accordance with its human rights obligations.(21) The Human Rights Committee has clarified that state parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) are under the obligation to adopt legislative, administrative or other measures for ensuring the protection provided for under article 23.(22) The Committee stresses that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.(23)
In Lebanon children born to non-ID Palestinian refugees are not eligible to be formally registered, either by the state or by UNRWA. With no official papers, many non-ID Palestinian refugee children are not able formally to access education, including primary education; they are unable to access state or UNRWA education. While they have the option to pay to go to private school, they are unable to take the brévé state exams, thereby receiving recognition of their education or finish their school education.(24). Lebanon has an obligation, under international human rights law, to ensure the right of every child to be registered immediately after birth(25) and to education for all children under its jurisdiction, including in particular free and compulsory primary education without discrimination as to their status as refugees or asylum-seekers, any other legal status, or the legal status of their parents or guardians. Additionally, children should not be punished for the failure of the state of Lebanon to register them in the first place. In its Concluding Observations in 2002, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about “"the high rate of Palestinian children living below the poverty line, as well as the lack of adequate access by Palestinian children to many basic rights, including health, education and an adequate standard of living, and about the quality of services provided.”"(26)
Amnesty International believes that everyone, irrespective of status is entitled to respect for, and protection of all human rights. Any bureaucratic requirements which have the effect of acting as an obstacle to the exercise of human rights should be abolished. All Palestinian refugees, including non-ID Palestinian refugees, should therefore be able effectively to enjoy all human rights guaranteed to non-citizens under international human rights law.
Amnesty International urges that a debate is started as a matter of urgency within the international community, including the relevant UN agencies, host states and other relevant states, as well as NGOs, in order to find solutions to bridge the protection gaps that exist in relation to non ID Palestinian refugees in Lebanon
Specifically, Amnesty International urges the Lebanese Government to:
· Regularize the status of unregistered refugees within its territory;
· Put a system in place that will ensure that all children within its territory, including the children of non-ID Palestinian refugees are registered and have equal access to human rights as Lebanese in accordance with its obligations under international human rights law(27), including ensuring that children of non-ID Palestinian refugees, have access to education on an equal basis with Lebanese nationals;
· Ensure that all Palestinian refugees are able to register their marriages in Lebanon
· Abolish all bureaucratic requirements impeding the effective enjoyment by Palestinian refugees of their rights to a name, education and marriage, among others.
· Ensure that all Palestinian refugees are accorded effective protection of their rights to enjoy just and favourable conditions of work, to adequate housing, and to an adequate standard of living.
(1) UNHCR, Note on International Protection, A/AC.96/1008, note 9, 4 July 2005
(2) EXCOM Conclusion No. 6 (XXVIII), 1977.
(3) Diplomatic assurances are guarantees made by the country of origin to the host country that it will not subject to ill-treatment the person whose return it is seeking.
(4) UN Committee Against Torture, Decision, Communication No. 233/2003, CAT/C/34/D/233/2003, May 20, 2005.
(5) Amnesty International has criticised the use of diplomatic assurances in a number of cases documenting that they are not reliable or adequate, including the case of two Egyptian men who were forcibly returned from Sweden (AI Index: MDE 12/035/2001; the case of a Saudi Arabian man who was forcibly returned from the USA (AI Index: MDE 23/004/2000); and a Sri Lankan man who was forcibly returned from Canada: (AI Index: AMR 20/002/1998).
(11) EXCOM Conclusion No. 90 (LII), 2001
(12) It is noteworthy in this regard that the Swiss Forum for Migration (SFM) has concluded in its survey conducted within the framework of the Convention Plus initiative that the most important motivation for the onward movement of refugees surveyed was the lack of a secure legal status formally conferring protection. SFM, Movements of Somali refugees and States’ responses thereto: Abridged Version of Main Results, 2005.
(17) This includes: 400,582 Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA; estimates of between 10,000 and 40,000 Palestinian refugees not registered with UNRWA but registered with the Lebanese authorities; 3,000-5,000 Palestinians refugees neither registered with UNRWA nor with the Lebanese authorities. Sources: UNRWA; Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de I'Homme (FIDH); The European Union’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO); the Palestinian Human Rights Organization; The Danish Refugee Council.
(18) Sources: The Danish Refugee Council; the Palestinian Human Rights Organization
(19) See "The Right to Return: The Case of the Palestinians, Amnesty International, AI INDEX: MDE
15/013/2001, 30 March 2001.
(20) See Lebanon: Economic And Social Rights Of Palestinian Refugees: Submission To The Committee On The Elimination Of Racial Discrimination, AI Index MDE 18/017/2003, 22 December 2003.
(21) Article 23(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that "the right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognized."
(22) See Human Rights Committee, General Comment 19: Protection of the family, the right to marriage and equality of the spouses, para. 3.
(23) Ibid, para. 1.
(24) In Lebanon, the last school certificate is the baccaleaureat, after which students can go to University. Before going to study for the baccaleaureat, students have to obtain a brévé, which is an intermediate schooling certificate.
(25) Article 24(2) of the ICCPR and article 7(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).· (26) Concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Lebanon (CRC/C/15/Add.169), 21 March 2002, para. 54.
(27) This includes, inter-alia, obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires states parties to "respect and ensure the rights set forth in the…Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status."