Human Rights Commentaries by Mary Ann Glendon, Chair of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

A prior post reviewed the limited public record (to date) of the first meeting on October 23 of the Commission on Unalienable Rights.

To gain a better understanding of what to expect from the Commission, this blog will examine two recent commentaries on human rights by, and an interview of, the Commission’s Chair, Mary Ann Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School, the author of a major book about the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) [1] and a prominent Roman Catholic who was U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican in the George W. Bush Administration. The Conclusion will evaluate her comments and those made by others at the first meeting.

Reclaim Human Rights (August 2016) [2]

Glendon began this article by acknowledging that she had been a participant in the Ramsey Colloquium’s 1998 affirmation of the UDHR as “the most available discourse for cross-cultural deliberation about the dignity of the human person” and as making “possible a truly universal dialogue about our common human future.” [3] She also affirmed she was “a longtime supporter of the cautious use of rights language, and a frequent critic of its misuses.”

Nevertheless, Glendon said that a 2016 criticism of human rights by R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things, [4] caused her to “ponder whether the noble post-World War II universal human rights idea has finally been so manipulated and politicized as to justify its abandonment by men and women of good will.”

According to Glendon, by “1998, governments and human-rights organizations alike were ignoring the fact that the UDHR was constructed as an integrated document whose core fundamental rights were meant to be ‘interdependent and indivisible.’ [However, by 1998, the] sense of the interdependence among rights and the connections between rights and responsibilities was fading.” Moreover, “a host of special-interest groups [were inspired] to capture the moral force and prestige of the human-rights project for their own purposes. . . .[The] core of basic human rights that might be said to be universal was being undermined by ‘multiplying the number of interests, goods, and desires that are elevated to the status of rights.”

As a result, by 2016, she argues, “the post-World War II dream of universal human rights risks dissolving into scattered rights of personal autonomy.”

Reno’s criticism of human rights, Glendon continues, emphasizes “the way that human rights as an ideology detracts from the difficult and demanding work of politics.” This is especially true in the U.S., she says, as “judicially-created rights have displaced political judgements that could and should have been left to the ordinary processes of bargaining, education, persuasion, and voting.” This has damaged “the American democratic experiment” by making it more difficult to correct an unwise judicial decision, intensifying “the politicization of the judicial selection process,” depriving “the country of the benefits of experimentation with different solutions to difficult problems” and accelerating “the flight from politics.”

Glendon concludes by urging “church leaders and people of good will to make every effort to connect the human-rights project to an affirmation of the essential interplay between individual rights and democratic values. We should insist on the connection between rights and responsibilities. And we should foster an appreciation of the ultimate dependence of rights upon the creation of rights-respecting cultures.”

 “Renewing Human Rights” (February 2019) [5]

“When Eleanor Roosevelt and a small group of people gathered at the behest of the U.N. in early 1947 to draft the world’s first ‘international bill of rights’” (the subsequent UDHR), the “idea that some rights could be universal—applicable across all the world’s different societies—was controversial.”

“Yet in the decades that followed, the UDHR . . . successfully challenged the view that sovereignty provided an iron shield behind which states could mistreat their people without outside scrutiny.”

“But now . . . the international human rights idea is in crisis, losing support both at home and abroad. Good intentions, honest mistakes, power politics, and plain old opportunism have all played a role in a growing skepticism, and even a backlash.”

As Glendon sees it, “there were three stages” to this change: [1] a pick-and-choose attitude toward rights initiated by the two superpowers in the Cold War era [U.S. and U.S.S.R.]; [2] an over-extension of the concept once the human rights idea showed its moral force; and [3] a forgetfulness of the hard-won wisdom of the men and women who had lived through two world wars.”

“The end of the Cold War increased the influence of human rights. American predominance, Western ideological ascendancy, a series of atrocities and conflicts, and a growing role for the United Nations and other international actors spurred the rapid growth of human rights activism in the 1990s. By the 2000s, there were many human rights organizations, including specialists, activists, agencies for monitoring and enforcement, and academic journals.”

These changes brought about “an interventionist approach, backed by Western—especially American—power. . . .  The establishment of state-like institutions such as the International Criminal Court (which the United States ultimately did not endorse), and doctrines such as the ‘Responsibility to Protect,’ reflected this shift. They increased the human rights field’s ability to frame the international agenda and set global standards. . . .  This encouraged an expansion in the number of basic rights.”

“Given that individual rights were gaining ascendancy, the role of social institutions and non-­individualistic values were deemphasized. A one-size-fits-all approach triumphed over the idea of a common standard that could be brought to life in a variety of legitimate ways. The indivisibility and inter­dependence of fundamental rights were ­forgotten.”

Some states now object to “uniform methods of interpreting and implementing” human rights treaties and to “supra­national institutions. They are remote from the people whose lives they affect. They lack public scrutiny and accountability, are susceptible to lobbying and political influence, and have no internal checks and balances.”

According to Glendon, the following “four major principles that the UDHR’s framers followed [in 1947-48] can reinvigorate the human rights idea in our own time:”

  • Modesty concerning universality. “The framers wisely confined themselves to a small set of principles so basic that no country or group would openly reject them. This was essential not only in order to gain broad political support within the U.N., but also to ensure that the Declaration would have deep and long-lasting support across vastly different cultures, belief systems, and political ideologies.”
  • Flexible universalism.” The UDHR framers “understood that there would always be different ways of applying human rights to different social and political contexts, and that each country’s circumstances would affect how it would fulfill its requirements.” For example, . . . [UDHR’s] Article 22 provides: ‘Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.’ (Emphasis added.) Another example is Article 14, which states, ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,’ but is silent on how that right should be protected.
  • Interdependence of basic rights.” The UDHR makes it clear “that everyone’s rights depend on respect for the rights of others, on the rule of law, and on a healthy civil society. . . . The framers of the [UDHR] did not expect uniform management of tensions or conflicts between rights. . . . [and instead] assumed that communities must balance the weight of claims of one right versus another before determining the best course of action.” Only a few rights do not allow such variation: “protections for freedom of religion and conscience” as well as “prohibitions of torture, enslavement, degrading punishment, . . .retroactive penal measures, and other grave violations of human dignity.”
  • “Subsidiarity.” Emphasis on “the primacy of the lowest level of implementation that can do the job, reserving national or international actors for situations where smaller entitles are incapable.” This principle, as stated in the UDHR’s Proclamation, also calls on “every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms.”

Glendon concludes by arguing for a new human rights goal: “the systematic elimination of a narrow set of evils for which a broad consensus exists across all societies. This would at least include “protections against genocide; slavery; torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; retroactive penal measures; deportation or forcible transfer of population; discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, nationality, or social origin; and protection for freedom of conscience and religion.”

Glendon Interview [6]

On August 3, 2019, Glendon was interviewed by Jack Goldsmith, another Harvard Law School professor of international law. Here are her comments that were not already expressed in the above articles.

She said there was confusion and crisis in human rights with roughly half of the world’s population without any rights and exasperated by disappointing performance of international human rights institutions.

Socrates said that definition of terms was the beginning of wisdom, and this is especially important since human rights are now important parts of U.S. foreign policy.

The concept of “unalienable rights,” which the printer of the original Declaration of Independence substituted for Thomas Jefferson’s draft’s use of “inalienable,” has evolved with the U.S. Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) and the words of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.

While the U.S. Declaration of Independence talked about “laws of nature” or pre-political rights, the UDHR is grounded in the world’s religious and philosophical traditions.

Glendon emphasized the civil and political rights in the UDHR were interdependent with economic and social rights and pointed to the New Deal and the preambles of many U.S. statutes on economic and social issues as expressing this interdependence. This also is stated in Article 22 of the UDHR: ‘Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.’” (Emphasis added.) This provision rejected the Soviet Union’s position that the state was solely responsible for such rights with Eleanor Roosevelt saying during the deliberations over the UDHR that no one had figured out how to do that without loss of freedom.

Another emphasis of Glendon was on the UDHR Proclamation’s words: ‘every individual and every organ of society, Keeping the [UDHR] constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of [U.N.] Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.” Or as Judge Learned Hand said, ‘The spirit of liberty will die if not in the hearts of the people.’

Reactions

 Glendon’s primary focus in these two articles and interview is the UDHR, which is mentioned as one of two  guiding authorities for the Commission on Unalienable Rights, but Glendon has less to say about the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which is the other guiding authority for this Commission.

We all should seek to follow her emphasizing the UDHR’s interdependency of civil and political rights with economic and social rights and the importance of every individual and every organ of society striving by teaching and education to promote respect for human rights and freedoms.

The UDHR indeed is an important international human rights instrument. But it is a declaration adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948. It does not by itself establish legal obligations on any nation state or other person.

In any event, Glendon says nothing about another provision of the UDHR’s Proclamation: “every individual and every organ of society , keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive . . . by progressive measures, national and international, to secure [these rights and freedoms] universal and effective recognition and observance.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, the UDHR itself contemplated that there should be additional measures, including national legislation and international treaties, to secure the rights and freedoms articulated in the UDHR and, by implication, that these other measures will include “rights” language. Moreover, under the principle of “flexible universalism,” a developed and wealthy country like the U.S. could well find ways to secure the rights mentioned in the UDHR that are more complex than those in other countries.

A similar principle for the Commission exists in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  It says, as the Commission emphasizes, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But the very next sentence of the U.S. Declaration says, but the Glendon and the Commission ignore, “That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, the U.S. Declaration contemplates that the not yet established U.S. government subsequently will enact statutes that protect the unalienable rights, only three of which are specifically mentioned in the Declaration.[7] These are not “ad hoc” rights as Secretary Pompeo likes to say.

As a result, after the 1948 adoption of the UDHR, various U.N. organizations have drafted and adopted many international human rights treaties,[8] and the U.S. federal and state governments have adopted many human rights statutes and regulations.

This obvious point is surprisingly overlooked by Glendon when she lauds UDHR’s Article 14 on the right to asylum as an example of flexible universalism because it does not say how that right should be protected. But the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees that entered into force on April 22, 1954, defines”refugee” and specifies many conditions for that protection while limiting reservations under Article 42. Presumably she is not arguing that this treaty was a mistake.

Indeed, we should all celebrate, not complain as Secretary Pompeo likes to do, that there has been such proliferation or in Glendon’s words, “too much contemporary emphasis on ‘rights’ language. These arguments by Pompeo and Glendon can be seen as underhanded ways to cut back or eliminate rights that they do not like, which I assume would include abortion and LGBQ rights. Such rights constantly are criticized by her church (Roman Catholic) and by the Commission’s creator, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and others in the State Department.[9]

Criticism of Glendon’s apparent adherence to traditional Roman Catholic teachings on some of these issues comes from her successor as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican in the Obama Administration, Miguel Diaz, along with 128 Catholic activists and leaders, in a letter opposing the Commission. [10] They said, “Our faith and our commitment to the principles of democracy require us to view every person on earth as a full human being. We staunchly support the fundamental human rights of all people and proudly carry on the long tradition in our country of advocating for expanding human rights around the world. Our concern is that this Commission will undermine these goals by promoting a vision of humanity that is conditional, limiting, and based on a very narrow religious perspective that is inconsistent with the beliefs and practices of billions in this country and around the world. Our faith and our commitment to the principles of democracy require us to view every person on earth as a full human being. We staunchly support the fundamental human rights of all people and proudly carry on the long tradition in our country of advocating for expanding human rights around the world,” they write. “Our concern is that this Commission will undermine these goals by promoting a vision of humanity that is conditional, limiting, and based on a very narrow religious perspective that is inconsistent with the beliefs and practices of billions in this country and around the world. Of most urgent concern is that the composition of the Commission indicates that it will lead our State Department to adopt policies that will harm people who are already vulnerable, especially poor women, children, LGBTI people, immigrants, refugees, and those in need of reproductive health services. This is being done “in the name of a very partial version of Christianity that is being promoted by the current Administration.” “All human beings,” however, “have been created in God’s image and all have been endowed by their Creator with the fundamental right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. No person speaking in the name of government or in the name of God can do so to undermine or to deny this right.”

Nor does Glendon discuss how to resolve conflicts among rights. For example, the U.S. Declaration’s mention of “life” as one of the “unalienable rights” is taken by some, and probably Glendon, as a basis for arguing there should be no right to an abortion. But an abortion may be necessary to protect an expectant woman’s right to “life” or her “pursuit of happiness.”  How are those conflicts resolved? That is why we have federal and state and international courts and agencies to resolve these conflicts or disputes.

The previously cited “four major principles” of the UDHR are worthy of remembering and guiding future human rights, internationally and domestically.

Glendon, however, fails to acknowledge the continued use of the “flexible universalism” principle in human rights treaties that allow for their ratification by nation states with reservations for at least some of the treaty’s provisions. And, of course, a state may chose not to ratify a treaty and thereby not be bound by any of its provisions. [11] Moreover, there are mechanisms for other states and international agencies to address these reservations and non-ratifications. For example, in the U.H. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, the Council and other states may, and do, make recommendations for states to withdraw reservations or ratify certain treaties. The same was done by the Council’s predecessor, the U.N. Human Rights Committee.[12]

The words of Professor Michael McConnell from the Commission’s first meeting should also be remembered in this evaluation of its ongoing work. He warned that the term “‘unalienable rights,’ which comes to us from our country’s protestant reform traditions, has never had a common or precise definition. The phrase identifies a philosophical concept, rather than a concrete set of rights.  And while the concept often prioritizes freedom of religion, McConnell cautioned that our founders were ultimately more concerned with freedom of conscience, which includes but is not limited to a narrow understanding of religious freedom.”

“McConnell also recognized the implicit failures of this philosophical approach.  While the term ‘unalienable rights’ makes for inspirational prose, the philosophical concept behind it embraced our country’s original sin of slavery and denied women full standing in society. Concepts of equal protection could not, and did not, exist at this time, under this philosophical tradition.”

Andrea Schmitt of the Center for American Progress who attended  the Commission’s first meeting also had words of wisdom for the Commission. She said, “It is simply wrong-headed and ultimately self-defeating to create an artificial human rights hierarchy — one that strips away the universality of human rights and puts a limited number of political and religious rights above all others.  Indeed, this enterprise stands to harm religious freedom itself, as it gives philosophical justification to theocratic governments and religious majority populations who are, by far, the leading persecutors of religious minorities around the world.”

We all should thank Professor Glendon for her expertise and willingness to serve as Chair of the Commission. Those of us interested in international human rights need to carefully follow the Commission’s deliberations and eventual reports and express our agreements and disagreements with respect and reasoned arguments.

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[1] Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Random House 2001); The Importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (July 11, 2019).

[2] Glendon, Reclaim Human Rights, First Things (Aug. 2016).

[3] The Ramsey Colloquium apparently published reflections about early Christianity’s treatment of homosexuality. (Graeser, The Ramsey Colloquium and Other First Things Resources, Mars Hill Audio (June 29, 2001).

[4] Reno, Against Human Rights, First Things (May 2016). Reno is a former professor of theology and ethics at Creighton University, a Jesuit institution until 2010 when he became the editor of First Things. In 2004 at age 45 he left the Episcopal Church to join the Roman Catholic Church and  describes himself as a theological and political conservative. First Things, which describes itself as“America’s most influential journal of religion and public life,” is published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and educational 501(c)(3) organization. The Institute was founded in 1989 by Richard John Neuhaus and his colleagues to confront the ideology of secularism, which insists that the public square must be ‘naked,’ and that faith has no place in shaping the public conversation or in shaping public policy.” The Institute’s mission is to articulate a governing consensus that supports: a religiously pluralistic society that defends human dignity from conception to natural death; a democratic, constitutionally ordered form of government supported by a religiously and morally serious culture; a vision of freedom that encourages a culture of personal and communal responsibility; and loyalty to the Western tradition that provides a basis for responsible global citizenship.”

[5]  Glendon & Kaplan, Renewing Human Rights, First Things (Feb. 2019) The co-author, Seth D. Kaplan, is a professorial lecturer at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University. He is a consultant to organizations such as the World Bank, USAID, State Department, United Nations and African Development Bank.

[6] Howell, The Lawfare Podcast: Mary Ann Glendon on Unalienable Rights, Lawfare (Aug. 3, 2019).

[7] See The U.S. Declaration of Independence’s Relationship to the U.S. Constitution and Statutes, dwkcommentaries.com (July 5, 2019).

[8] As of 2009, there were at least the following significant multilateral human rights treaties: (1) U.N. Charter; (2) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (3) First Optional Covenant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (4) Covenant on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; (5) Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; (6) Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees; (7) International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; (8) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; (9) Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; (10) Convention on the Rights of the Child; (11) Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the elimination of the death penalty; (12) International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; (13) Statute of the International Court; and (14) International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. (Weissbrodt, Ni Aoláin, Fitzpatrick & Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process at 33-35 (Lexis/Nexis 4th edition 2009).)

[9] See, e.g.,  U.S. Opposition to “Abortion” and “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights” at U.N. High-Level Meeting, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 25, 2019).

[10] White, Former U.S. envoy to Vatican opposes new commission headed by predecessor, Crux (Jul. 23, 2019).

[11] Under international law, “A State may, when signing, ratifying, accepting, approving, or acceding to a treaty, formulate a reservation unless (a) the reservation is prohibited by a treaty; (b) the treaty provides that only specified reservations, which do not include the reservation  in question, may be made; or (c) in cases not falling under sub-paragraphs (a) or (b), the reservation is incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty.” (Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, arts. 19 (1980); id. Arts. 2(1) (d),20, 21, 22 )  See also,e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Multilateral Treaties Signed, But Not Ratified, by the U.S., dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 12, 2013); Multilateral Human Rights Treaties That Have Not Been Signed and Ratified by the U.S., dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 16, 2013).

[12] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.H. Human Rights Committee’s Review of U.S. Human Rights (April 19, 2014); U.N. Human Rights Committee’s Hearings About U.S. Human Rights (April 21, 2014); U.N. Human Rights Committee‘s Concluding Observations on U.S. Human Rights (April 24, 2014); Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: Background (June 12, 2018); Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: The Pre-Hearing Papers (June 12, 2018); Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: The UPR Hearing (June 16, 2018); U.N. Human Rights Council’s Final Consideration of Cameroon’s Universal Periodic Review (Sept. 20, 2018).

 

 

 

Ecuador’s Dispute with the United Kingdom and Sweden Over Julian Assange: Granting Asylum to Assange

On August 16, 2012, the Government of Ecuador made its decision to grant the petition for diplomatic asylum submitted by Julian Assange, an Australian national temporarily residing at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, United Kingdom (“the Decision”).[1] The U.K. and Sweden challenge the legitimacy of this action, and this post will explore the issues relating to this dispute.[2]

The Decision sets forth a list of what it describes as 12 “fundamental principles of general international law” regarding asylum that purportedly support its grant of asylum. These principles are said to be derived from, and supported by, Ecuador’s own laws regarding asylum and 16 international treaties and declarations.

The Decision also states what it deems to be the relevant facts for the application along with a summary of Ecuador’s efforts to cooperate with the governments of the U.K., Sweden and the U.S. and the measures Ecuador will seek from the U.K. regarding Assange.

Let us examine these legal and factual assertions.

The Relevant Law

In its extensive legal discussion, the Decision fails even to mention what, in my opinion, is the essential first step in any such analysis: the International Court of Justice’s  judgment in 1950 that diplomatic asylum was not part of general international law.

In Colombian-Peruvian Asylum Case, I.C.J. Rep. 1950, p. 266 (Nov. 20, 1950), the court concluded, “A decision to grant diplomatic asylum involves a derogation [or departure] from the sovereignty of [the territorial] . . .  State [where the diplomatic premises are located]. It withdraws the offender from the jurisdiction of the territorial State and constitutes an intervention in matters which are exclusively within the competence of that State. Such a derogation from territorial sovereignty cannot be recognized [as a matter of general international law] unless its legal basis is established in each particular case.” Moreover, if the State granting diplomatic asylum had the “unilateral and definitive” authority to determine whether the offense of the asylum-seeker was a political or common crime, it would “aggravate . . . the derogation” and is “not inherent in the institution of diplomatic asylum.” (In addition, Judge Alvarez from Chile, dissenting in this case, said there also was no customary American international law of diplomatic asylum.)

Seven months later in the same case the ICJ rendered another judgment that stated, “The safety that arises out of [diplomatic] asylum cannot be construed as a protection against the laws and against the jurisdiction of legally constituted tribunals [of the host state].” (Haya de La Torre Case, I.C.J. Rep. 1951, p. 71 (June 13, 1951).)

Nor did Ecuador’s Decision refer in any way to the unsuccessful effort by Latin American countries to overrule the I.C.J. judgments by having diplomatic asylum recognized in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations or the unsuccessful U.N. effort to prepare and adopt an international, multilateral treaty on the subject of diplomatic asylum. In 1977 the U.N.’s International Law Commission concluded that there was not sufficient interest to justify any further work on the subject.

Another response to these ICJ rulings was an Inter-American Conference in Caracas, Venezuela on March 28, 1954, that adopted the text of the Inter-American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum. Today it is the only such treaty in the world, and Ecuador is one of the only 14 of the 35 states of the Organization of American States that have ratified that treaty.[3] In other words, 179 of the 193 U.N. member states have not adopted this or any similar treaty. The U.K. and Sweden, which are not in the Inter-American system, obviously are not parties to this treaty; nor is the U.S., which was eligible to sign and ratify. As a result, this treaty cannot and does not impose any legal obligations on the U.K., Sweden or the U.S.

It, therefore, is not too surprising that Ecuador’s Decision does not analyze the terms of this treaty for the current dispute although it is on the list of 16 international treaties and declarations that purportedly support the Decision.

Even more damning, the Decision does not address the clear problem facing all instances of diplomatic asylum, as pointed out in the ICJ judgment. A decision like Ecuador’s to grant asylum to someone in one of its embassies in a foreign country is at least a potential infringement upon the competence of that foreign country. Such an infringement or derogation cannot be ignored. Indeed, as discussed in a prior post, Article 41(1) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states that “it is the duty of all persons enjoying such [diplomatic] privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State. . . .” In addition, Article 41(3) of that Convention provides that the “premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present Convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State.”

Instead of focusing on these clearly relevant legal issues, Ecuador’s Decision merely lists 15 other treaties and declarations that mention asylum while not offering direct legal support for the Decision. They are the following:

  • All four of the countries involved in the current dispute are parties to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which is the major general treaty on refugees and asylum and which was discussed in a prior post. But it does not apply for various reasons. Assange cannot claim he has a “well-founded fear of persecution” on certain grounds in his home country of Australia, and the treaty excludes “any person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that . . . [he] has committed a serious non-political crime [here, in Sweden]  outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee . . . .”
  • Ecuador was a state party to five of the other cited treaties that mentioned asylum, but they are not relevant to the current application or grant of asylum.[4]
  • Another four treaties mention asylum, but they are from other regions of the world, and Ecuador is not, and could not be, a state party to them.[5]
  • One treaty does not mention asylum at all. Instead it is a treaty on the interpretation of treaties.[6]
  • The last four of the 16 cited sources are declarations, not treaties, and thus are not sources of binding international legal obligations on any state.[7]

Nor is the possibility of the U.S.’ seeking or imposing the death penalty on Assange for the crime of making public secret U.S. documents “persecution” under international law. Under Article 6 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant . . . .  This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court.” [8]

The U.K. and Sweden as well as other countries in Europe, however, have a different opinion regarding the propriety of the death penalty after initially permitting such in Article 2(1) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1953. This changed in 1985, when Protocol No. 6 to this treaty went into force and provided in Article 1, “The death penalty shall be abolished. No one shall be condemned to such penalty or execution.” [9]

As a result, those 46 European states that have ratified Protocol No.6, including the U.K. and Sweden, routinely deny requests to extradite suspects to the U.S. when there are true risks of the imposition of the death penalty.

Indeed, the U.S.’ extradition treaty with the European Union, to which both the U.K. and Sweden belong, expressly provides that when an offense for which extradition is sought is punishable by death under the law of the requesting state [here theoretically, the U.S.] but not under the law in the requested state [here theoretically, the U.K. or Sweden], the requested state may grant the extradition on condition that the death penalty shall not be imposed or if imposed shall not be carried out. A similar provision is included in the recent extradition treaty between the U.S. and the U.K.

Assange, therefore, cannot have a “well-founded fear” of imposition of the death penalty even if it were regarded as “persecution,” which it is not.

Perhaps Ecuador was implicitly suggesting that the 11 of the 16 listed instruments that occurred after the previously mentioned ICJ decision of 1950 changed the general international law regarding diplomatic asylum. The Decision hints at this when it said, “The lack of international convention or internal legislation of the States cannot be legitimately claimed to limit, impinge or deny the right to asylum.” But a recent  treatise on public international law asserts that this type of asylum is not part of general international law as does a recent thesis at the University of Leiden,  a contemporary expert and London’s Economist.  Ecuador’s veiled contrary suggestion, I submit, is patently ridiculous.

The U.K. certainly disagrees with Ecuador’s legal argument.

On August 17th (the day after the grant of asylum), the U.K.’s Foreign Secretary William Hague stated that the U.K. “was disappointed” in this decision and would not allow Assange safe passage out of the country. “The UK does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum. It is far from a universally accepted concept: the [U.K.] is not a party to any legal instruments which require us to recognize the grant of diplomatic asylum by a foreign embassy in this country. Moreover, it is well established, even for those countries which do recognize diplomatic asylum, it should not be used for the purposes of escaping the regular processes of the courts.” In addition, the U.K. has “painstakingly explained the extensive human rights safeguards built into our law.”

These points were reiterated at the August 24th OAS meeting by the UK’s Permanent Observer, Philip Barton. He said the U.K. was not party to the Inter-American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum, and “there is no legal basis for the [U.K.] to meet the request of . . . Ecuador to grant safe passage for Mr. Assange out of the [U.K.].” He also said the U.K. has advised Ecuador about “the safeguards in place under the European Convention on Human Rights, international law, European Union law and [U.K.] law [that] fully address the concerns raised by Mr. Assange and by . . . Ecuador.”

Observer Barton further told the OAS meeting representatives that the purported concern about Assange’s human rights upon extradition to Sweden was “completely unfounded,” and an “argument to this effect was comprehensively rejected by the courts in the UK.” The U.K. and Swedish courts “robustly implement and adhere to the highest standards of human rights protection.”

In any event, the Decision’s legal argument, in my opinion, is not persuasive.

The Relevant Facts

The Decision starts its statement of the relevant facts with the noncontroversial: Assange is a communication professional with international awards for his struggle for freedom of expression, freedom of press and human rights, and through WikLeaks he has publicized documents from different sources. The Decision then provides more contentious, and I think unfounded, assertions.

According to Ecuador’s Decision, the U.S. and other countries that produced these documents have threatened retaliation risking Assange’s safety, integrity and even his life and have refused to provide guarantees to protect his life and safety. Extradition of Assange to a third country outside the European Union [the U.S.] is feasible without the proper guarantees for his safety and personal integrity. If extradited to the U.S., Assange would not have a fair trial; he could be judged by a special or military court; and he probably would receive cruel and demeaning treatment and be condemned to a life sentence or the death penalty.

Other than stating the U.S. is not a party to the Inter-American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum and does not recognize the concept of diplomatic asylum, the U.S. has declined to comment on the merits of the dispute and has urged trilateral negotiations by the parties to resolve the dispute. There, however, is no credible evidence for Assange and Ecuador’s impugning the independence of fairness of the U.S. federal judicial system, and any risk of capital punishment in the U.S. would be eliminated by the European practice and law forbidding extradition to other countries where there is a risk of such punishment.

Any accusation against the independence and honesty of the U.K. courts is absurd. Indeed, Assange in 2011-2012 challenged his extradition to Sweden on the merits in the U.K. courts (magistrate’s court, High Court and Supreme Court) without any objection to the procedural rights he was accorded.

Ecuador’s Decision also has harsh allegations against the Swedish prosecutor’s office with respect to its ongoing investigation of Assange on criminal sexual charges. That office allegedly has prevented Assange from the total exercise of his legitimate right to defense to criminal charges. His procedural rights allegedly have been infringed during that investigation. Pretrial detention of Assange in Sweden would facilitate his extradition to a third country, i.e., the U.S.

Sweden has strongly rejected these charges. It did so at meetings with Ecuador’s Ambassador in Stockholm shortly after June 19th (when Assange arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London) and on August 16th. This rebuttal, in part, emphasized that in the last months of 2010 Assange challenged the European Arrest Warrant on the merits in Swedish courts (district court, court of appeal and Supreme Court) without any objection to the procedural protections of Swedish law.

In addition, after Assange was in temporary “residence” at the Ecuadorian Embassy, Sweden rejected his offer to be interrogated at that Embassy with respect to the Swedish investigation. Sweden did so because it wanted to confront Assange in Sweden with the existing evidence and conduct supplementary interviews of others depending upon what Assange had to say. The Swedish prosecutors also wanted him in their country to assure his presence at any criminal trial that might result from the investigation, as required by their law.

At the OAS meeting on August 24th, a Swedish diplomat stressed that Sweden had an independent judiciary that needed to proceed with investigation of Assange’s alleged sexual offenses. There had been no request to Sweden for extradition to a third country, she added, but European and Swedish law prohibits extradition when there is a risk of capital punishment.

The Decision also says the governments of the U.K., Sweden and the U.S. will “not respect the international conventions and treaties and would give priority to internal laws of secondary hierarchy, contravening explicit norms of universal application.” It is difficult to understand exactly what Ecuador means by this allegation. If it means that the U.K., Sweden and the U.S. do not agree with Ecuador’s legal argument, then that is certainly correct.

In summary, there is no credible evidence to support the extreme accusations against the judicial systems of the U.K., Sweden and the U.S.

Conclusion

Ecuador’s granting of asylum to Assange, in my opinion, is wrong on the law and wrong on the facts. Indeed, there is speculation in the press that the real reason for President Correa’s deciding to grant “asylum” in this case was to enhance his own political standing in his own country for next year’s presidential election.

Other than litigating these issues before the International Court of Justice or arbitrating or mediating them before a neutral third party, the only other peaceful way to resolve this dispute is for the parties to do so through diplomatic negotiations, as recommended by the OAS on August 24th.

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[1] According to the Decision, Assange’s written asylum application was submitted on June 19th with a June 25th written supplement, but neither of these documents is publicly available. This secrecy seems more than ironic for the self-proclaimed advocate for public transparency and disclosure. It also is ironic for Ecuadorian President Correa, who is known for his hostility to the press, to be the defender and protector of Assange.

[2] A prior post set forth the background for this dispute, and another post discussed the issue of the inviolability of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

[3]  The other 13 parties to the Inter-American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum are Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

[4] U.N. Charter, Art. 1(3) (one of U.N. purposes is achieving “universal cooperation in . . . promoting and encouraging respect for human rights”); American Convention on Human Rights, Art. 22.7 (“Every person has the right to seek and be granted asylum in a foreign territory, in accordance with the legislation of the state and international conventions, in the event he is being pursued for political offenses or related common crimes”); Inter-American Convention for Extradition (no extradition when “the person sought has been tried or sentenced or is to be tried before an extraordinary or ad hoc tribunal of the requesting State” (Art. 4.3) or when “the offense for which the person is sought is a political offense, an offense related thereto, or an ordinary criminal offense prosecuted for political reasons” (Art. 4.4) or when “persecution for reasons of race, religion or nationality is involved, or that the position of the person sought may be prejudiced for any of these reasons” (Art. 4.5): and Convention may not “be interpreted as a limitation on the right of asylum when its exercise is appropriate” (Art. 6)); Inter-American Convention on Territorial Asylum, (“Every State has the right, in the exercise of its sovereignty, to admit into its territory such persons as it deems advisable” (Art. I); this includes persons who “are persecuted for their beliefs, opinions, or political affiliations, or for acts which may be considered as political offenses” (Art. II); no “obligation to surrender to another State, or to expel from its own territory, persons persecuted for political reasons or offenses” (Art. III); no extradition of persons “sought for political offenses, or for common offenses committed for political ends, or when extradition is solicited for predominantly political motives” (Art. IV)); Geneva Convention [IV] Relative to Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Art. 45 (“In no circumstances shall a protected person be transferred to a country where he or she may have reason to fear persecution for his or her political opinions or religious beliefs”).

[5] African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Art. 12.3 (“Every individual shall have the right, when persecuted, to seek and obtain asylum in other countries in accordance with laws of those countries and international conventions”); European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, Art. 46 (“Every citizen of the [European] Union shall, in the territory of a third country in which the Member State of which he or she is a national is not represented, be entitled to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any Member State, on the same conditions as t he nationals of that Member State”); European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, Art. 5 (“no obligation to extradite if the requested State has substantial grounds for believing that the request for extradition . . . has been made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing a person on account of his race, religion, nationality or political opinion, or that that person’s position may be prejudiced for any of these reasons”); European Extradition Treaty, Art. 3.1 (“Extradition shall not be granted if the offence in respect of which it is requested is regarded by the requested Party as a political offence or as an offence connected with a political offence”).

[6] Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Art. 53 (“treaty is void if . . . it conflicts with a peremptory norm of general international law . . . . [i.e.,] a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character”), Art. 64 (“If a new peremptory norm of general international law emerges, any existing treaty which is in conflict with that norm becomes void and terminates”), Art. 66(b) (A party to a “dispute concerning the application or the interpretation of article 53 or 64 may . . .submit it to the International Court of Justice for a decision”).

[7]  Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 14 (“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the [U.N.]”);U.N. Declaration on Territorial Asylum (recommends territorial asylum practices include asylum for “persons struggling against colonialism” (Art. 1.1) , non-rejection of persons at the frontier and non-explusion to state where person may be subjected to persecution (Art. 3.1)); American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, Art. 27 (“Every person has the right, in case of pursuit not resulting from ordinary crimes, to seek and receive asylum in foreign territory, in accordance with the laws of each country and with international agreements”); Cartegena Declaration (at 1984 meeting to discuss protection of refugees in Central America, Mexico & Panama, reiteration of “importance of non-refoulement (including the prohibition of rejection at the frontier)”).

[8]  In addition, Article 1 (1) of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment states that “torture” “does not include pain or suffering arising from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

[9]  It should be noted that Protocol No. 6 had an exception that allowed the death penalty in times of war, but in 1988, Protocol No. 13 to the European Human Rights Convention eliminated this exception. Both the U.K. and Sweden have ratified Protocol No. 13.

A World of Refugees

As discussed in a prior post, a “refugee” under international law is “any person who owing to well- founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The principal U.N. agency concerned with such refugees is the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which was established by a December 1950 resolution of the U.N. General Assembly. Its purpose is to safeguard and protect the rights and well-being of refugees and the right to seek asylum. Over time its mandate has broadened to include internally displaced people (IDP) and stateless people. Every year it publishes detailed statistics on all of these people of concern to UNHCR.

For 2010 there were 33,924,000 people of concern to UNHCR in the following categories:

Category Number
Refugees 10,550,000
Asylum-seekers       837,000
IDP’s 17,621,000
Other   4,916,000
TOTAL 33,924,000

Nearly 80 % of these people were hosted in developing countries, including some of the poorest countries in the world while the U.S. had 271,000. The major sources of these people in 2010 were the following countries:

Country Number
Afghanistan   4,404,000
Colombia   4,128,000
Iraq   3,387,000
Democratic Repub. Congo   2,719,000
Somalia   2,257,000
Pakistan   2,199,000
Sudan   2,185,000
Other 12,645,000
TOTAL 33,924,000

The overall statistics for 2011 should be published by UNHCR in June 2012. Just recently it published its report on one part of this new set of statistics–asylum applications in 2011 in 44 industrialized countries, including the U.S. The total of new applications was 441,300, which was 20 % more than in 2010 (368,000). The 2011 level is the highest since 2003 when 505,000 asylum applications were lodged in the industrialized countries.  With an estimated 74,000 asylum applications, the U.S. was the largest single recipient of new asylum claims among the 44 industrialized countries. France was second with 51,900, followed by Germany (45,700), Italy (34,100), and Sweden (29,600).

There are many ways one may make U.S.-tax deductible financial contributions to organizations that help these people. These organizations include the following:

  • USA for UNHCR, which supports UNHCR’s humanitarian work to assist refugees around the world;
  • U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which seeks to protect the rights and address the needs of persons in forced or voluntary migration worldwide by advancing fair and humane public policy, facilitating and providing direct professional services, and promoting the full participation of migrants in community life;
  • International Rescue Committee, which was founded at the request of Albert Einstein to offer care and assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster;
  • American Refugee Committee (Minneapolis, Minnesota), which works to provide opportunities and expertise to refugees, displaced people and host communities around the world;
  • Center for Victims of Torture (Minneapolis, Minnesota), which helps torture-survivors from around the world heal and rebuild their lives;
  • Advocates for Human Rights (Minneapolis, Minnesota), which, among other things, provides pro bono attorneys for asylum-seekers;
  • Immigrant Law Center of [St. Paul] Minnesota, which provides quality immigration legal services, law-related education, and advocacy to meet the steadily increasing needs of Minnesota’s immigrant and refugee communities;

The Persistence of the Inquisition

The Inquisition was a phenomenon limited to fifteenth and sixteenth century Spain. Correct? Not so says Cullen Murphy in his new book, God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World and in the Atlantic Magazine’s excerpt of the book, Torturer’s Apprentice. So too does Adam Gopnik in a recent New Yorker essay about this and related books, Inquiring Minds: The Spanish Inquisition revisited.

As Gopnik puts it,  the Inquisition is “an institution as deeply rooted in modernity as the scientific tradition that it opposed. Its fanaticism, its implicit totalitarianism . . ., its sheer bureaucratic brutality  . . . make it central to who we are and what we do. Its thumbprint is everywhere. . . .” What happens at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is only one of the recent examples. Another example is the close parallels of the Spanish Inquisition’s interrogation manuals and the current U.S. manuals about “enhanced interrogation.”

Gopnik also criticizes scholars who allegedly delve into the minutia of the Spanish Inquisition and in the process lose the forest for the trees: Benzion Netanyahu (the father of the Israeli Prime Minister), Henry Kamen and Eamon Duffy.

According to Gopnik, history needs to be done with “historical imagination,” which is the “ability to see small and think big.” Without such imagination, the historian “risks a failure of basic human empathy.”  For studying and writing about the Spanish Inquisition, this means, he says, that the historian must imagine “the horror of being burned alive.”

The persistence of the practices of the Inquisition unfortunately continues to be demonstrated by the news of the day. Minneapolis’ Center for Victims of Torture has treated over 23,000 victims over the last 24 years. A similar program at New York City’s Bellevue/N.Y.U. Program for Survivors of Torture recently reported that in its “20 years of examining torture victims, we have seen few as traumatized as the several Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and black site (secret prison) detainees whom we evaluated.” And the European Court of Human Rights recently decided that under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the U.K. could not deport a radical Muslim cleric to Jordan because there was a “real risk that evidence obtained by torture will be used against him.”

We also have seen in the following prior posts the persistence of torture and the efforts to stop such conduct:

  • the negotiation and adoption of a multilateral treaty against torture (the International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment);
  • the U.S. first and second reports to the Committee Against Torture;
  • the U.S. adoption of the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA);
  • the U.S. federal court lawsuit under the TVPA over the torture, rape and murders of the four American churchwomen in El Salvador;
  • the criminal cases in Spain under the principle of universal jurisdiction against U.S. officials for alleged torture of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and for  authoring legal memoranda allegedly justifying torture;
  • the granting of asylum to a Salvadoran for having been tortured in his home country and who came to Minnesota to be treated at the Center for Treatment of Victims of Torture; and
  • the jurisdiction over torture as part of crimes against humanity (Art. 7(1)(f)) and war crimes (Art. 8(2)(a)(ii), 8(2)(c)(i)) for the International Criminal Court and other international criminal tribunals.

As a result, eternal vigilance against torture is necessary. In the U.S., for example, various religious groups have banded together in a National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Its statement of conscience says, “Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved — policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation’s most cherished ideals. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.”

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Refugee and Asylum Law: The Modern Era

As previously indicated, the history of refugees and asylum, in my opinion, may be divided into two major periods: the pre-modern era (before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948) and the modern era (after that adoption).[1] We now examine that Declaration and its implementation in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The United Nations Charter, which entered into force on October 24, 1945, created the Economic and Social Council in Chapter X. Under Article 68 of the Charter, this Council was to establish a commission for the promotion of human rights.[2]

In early 1946 this Council created a committee to make recommendations on the structure and functions of such a commission. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and eight others were appointed to this committee, and she was elected its chair. It recommended that the first project of the new commission should be the writing a bill of human rights. Thereafter, in June 1946, the Council created the U.N. Human Rights Commission and directed it to prepare an international bill of human rights.[3]

In January 1947 the Human Rights Commission held its first meeting and elected Eleanor Roosevelt as its chair.[4]

At the Commission’s June 1947 meeting Great Britain proposed preparing a covenant or treaty of human rights, rather than a declaration full of high-sounding generalities. The U.S., however, favored a broad declaration followed by treaties. The U.S. position appears to have been a strategy to avoid the U.S. Senate ratification process that constitutionally was necessary for ratification of treaties, but was not required for U.S. voting in the U.N. General Assembly. Remember that President Truman was heading into the 1948 presidential election and did not want to provoke a Senate vote he might lose. In any event, the Commission decided to work on both a declaration and covenants.[5]

In December 1948 (only one month after Truman won the presidential election), the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration: 48 in favor (including the U.S.); 0 against; 8 abstentions (the USSR and its allies, South Africa and Saudi Arabia); and 2 absences.[6]

Eleanor Roosevelt & UDHR

The Declaration had two important provisions relevant to refugees and asylum. Its Article 13(2) stated, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Article  14(1) went on to say, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” (Emphasis added.)[7]

Even though the Declaration was not a treaty that created legal obligations for subscribing states, its declaring that every individual human being had a right to asylum was a historic departure from the pre-modern era where asylum was a matter of discretion for the protecting state. This provision also set an objective for the treaty on refugees then being formulated. These provisions of the Universal Declaration, in my opinion, also constitute an atonement for the failure of the civilized world in the 1930’s to protect German Jewish refugees.

In any event, ever since its adoption, the Universal Declaration has set the agenda for the subsequent development of international human rights treaties. The Declaration also continues to act as an inspirational and aspirational document throughout the world, as I discovered on my first visit to El Salvador in April 1989.[8]

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

 

On July 2, 1951, an international conference in Geneva, Switzerland concluded with the signing of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees by the conference attendees and the opening of the treaty for accession or ratification by nation states.[9] By its Article 43(1) it was to enter into force or become a binding treaty 90 days after the sixth state had acceded or ratified the treaty. That happened on April 22, 1954.[10]

Its preamble noted that the U.N. had “manifested its profound concern for refugees and endeavored to assure refugees the widest possible exercise of . . . fundamental rights and freedoms.” The preamble also stated, “the grant of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries, and . . . a satisfactory solution of a problem . . . [of] international scope and nature cannot therefore be achieved without international cooperation.”

This treaty adopted the following definition of “refugee” in Article 1(A)(2) as any person who:

  • “[As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951] and owing to well- founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The bracketed phrase [“As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951”] was the provision that limited the coverage of the Convention to the problems still being faced by many World War II refugees still scattered across Europe. This limiting phrase was eliminated in the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees discussed below.

Excluded from the definition of “refugee” in Article 1(F) was “any person . . . [who] (a) . . . has committed a crime against peace, a war crime or a crime against humanity . . . ; (b) . . . has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee; [and] (c) . . . has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the [U.N.].”[11]

The Convention granted refugees certain rights within a country of refuge as well as imposing on them certain obligations. The Convention further stipulates that, subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalized for their “illegal entry or presence.” This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules. Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum.

Importantly, the Convention contains various safeguards against the expulsion of refugees. Its Article 33(1) states, “No Contracting 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.”

Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees

By 1966, it had become apparent that new refugee situations had arisen since the Refugee Convention had been adopted and that all refugees should enjoy equal status. As a result, a new treaty was prepared to eliminate the previously mentioned limitation of the Convention to those refugees created by pre-1951 events. This was the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees that went into force on October 4, 1967.[12]

Parties to the Convention or Protocol

As of April 1, 2011, there were 145 nation states (and the Holy See) that were parties to the Convention and Protocol or the latter, including the U.S. That represents 76.2% of the U.N. members (plus the Holy See).[13]

Conclusion

In subsequent posts we will review (a) the work of the principal U.N. agency concerned with refugees (the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees); (b) U.S. law and procedures for refugees; and (c) U.S. law and procedures for asylum.


[1]  See Post: Refugees and Asylum Law: The Pre-Modern Era (July 7, 2011).

[3] See Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House 2002)(fascinating history of the development of the Universal Declaration).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6]  Id.

[8]  See Post: My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989 (May 25, 2011).

[9] UNHCR, 1951 Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search/?page=&comid=3c07a8642&cid=49aea9390&scid=49aea9398.

[10]  UNHCR, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html; UNHCR, The 1951 Refugee Convention: Questions and Answers (2007), http://www.unhcr.org/3c0f495f4.html.

[11] There are certain other stated exclusions from the definition of “refugee” in Article 1(C), (D), (E).

[12] Id.

[13]  UNHCR, States Parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol,        http://www.unhcr.org/3b73b0d63.html. In addition Madagascar and St. Kitts & Nevis are parties only to the Convention with its now outmoded temporal limitations. (Id.)