The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Resident living in the newly established Sosmaqala IDP camp comprised of Afghans which have recently returned to their country.

The mandate of UNHCR, based on its Statute, is to provide international protection to refugees who fall within the scope of the Statute and seek durable solutions for the problem of refugees. Within its mandate as stipulated in the Statute and subsequent General Assembly resolutions, UNHCR undertakes wide ranging protection and assistance activities, many of which relate directly or indirectly to the rule of law, for the purpose of enhancing the protection of refugees and other persons of its concern, including Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and returnees.

The rule of law sector is a classical cross-cutting sector and UNHCR activities related to the rule of law cannot be seen and analyzed in isolation of its overall protection mandate. In the context of exercising this specific mandate concerning displaced populations and stateless persons, UNHCR’s work relates to rule of law, among others, in the following areas:

  • the continuous development of international law and in particular human rights law as related to or impacting upon refugees and other persons of concern, for example, in supporting the UN human rights machinery in its standard-setting efforts;
  • advocacy regarding respect for, protection of, and fulfillment of the rights of refugees and other persons of concern as provided by international human rights and refugee law;
  • capacity building efforts (legislation, asylum structures, judiciary, Ombudsmen, legal aid, NGO support structures);
  • direct UNHCR protection and assistance measures. These efforts may include addressing any rule of law or protection need during transition periods. Such direct measures include substitutive measures to meet basic survival needs, and the conduct of direct mandate status determination procedures. They include preparation for resettlement as a means to address urgent (human rights based) protection needs. Direct intervention measures are taken where host Governments are unable or unwilling to fully secure the human rights of persons of concern.
A clear linkage between UN engagement in the strengthening of the rule of law and UNHCR’s mandate also exists in context of voluntary repatriation of refugees, for example with regard to UNHCR’s efforts to:

  • promote the creation of conditions conducive to the sustainable return of refugees to their country of origin in safety and dignity; and
  • monitor the treatment of returnees and respect for their human rights upon return, not least with a view to designing (and when necessary adjusting) protection-sensitive return policies and taking well-informed decisions in relation to cessation of refugee status.
Similar linkages exist with respect to the creation of conditions conducive to the sustainable return of IDPs to their place of origin.