Lebanon and the Origins of International (Refugee) Law

I’ve spent most of these past years researching the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, culminating in a series of recent articles which among others can be found here and here. Today, Lebanon hosts the highest number of refugees in the world in proportion to its population size of about six million. Many of these live in deep social and legal precarity, with an estimated 60 per cent of Syrian refugees living irregularly in the country and thus subject to extremely harsh and marginalized conditions.

From an international law perspective, however, Lebanon is a fascinating country. It takes pride in its contribution to some of the earliest international human rights instruments, including the participation of Charles Malik in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and his chairing of the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1951-1952.

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When May States Lawfully Recruit Internally Displaced Persons into Civil Militias?

All states have an intrinsic right to call upon their citizens to undertake military service, but under what circumstances may states recruit citizens into irregular forces or civil militias? And what if the citizens are internally displaced persons? The answers to these questions are far from straightforward. Recognizing that recruitment into civil militias is a particularly understudied topic in international law, in 2010, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions called for further research into the conditions under which civil militias come into existence, factors that contribute to illegal conduct, and in what circumstances and how governments could or should legally support or encourage the development of such forces.

Photo: AFP/MARCO LONGARI

Photo: AFP/MARCO LONGARI

Responding to this call, my article Recruiting Internally Displaced Persons into Civil Militias: the case of northern Uganda explores the significant recruitment of IDPs into state-sanctioned civil militias in northern Uganda between 1996 and 2006. I base my analysis on international and domestic (Ugandan) legislation concerning the issue of civil militia recruitment, but also on empirical material collected in 2009 and 2010, when I was a guest researcher at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. In addition to interviews with former civil militia members in the northern part of the country, I made comprehensive research into the records of the Ugandan Parliament, which I found provided an important contextualization of how human rights norms are viewed in political decision making. Continue reading

World Refugee Day Draws Attention to Shortcomings of International Law

SyrianRefugeesintheRegionJune1st2014-page-001Tomorrow, on June 20, we observe World Refugee Day. This day was established by the United Nations to honor the courage, strength and determination of those who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence. But this year’s World Refugee Day also reminds us – perhaps more than ever before – of our failures as an international community and the shortcomings of international refugee law. Civil war in Syria has created the worst refugee crisis in 20 years, with an average of 6,000 people fleeing every day in 2013. Not since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda have refugee numbers risen at such a startling rate.

In March of last year, the UN High Commissioner Antonio Guterres wrote in the New York Times, “[o]n Wednesday, my colleagues will register the one millionth Syrian refugee. A milestone in human tragedy. And a figure that should, after two years of death and destruction, stir the level of political action needed to put an end to this war before more lives are lost, more people forced to flee and the conflict destabilizes the region.” This past April, UNHCR once again brought to our attention the one millionth refugee, although, this time, the figure referred solely to the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. In total, and in addition to 6.5 million internally displaced persons in Syria, we are currently facing a staggering 2.8 million Syrian refugees. Continue reading

Book Launch: Protecting Civilians in Refugee Camps

Protecting Civilians in Refugee CampsIt’s my great pleasure to announce the book launch of Protecting Civilians in Refugee Camps: Unable and Unwilling States, UNHCR and International ResponsibilityThrough an analysis of the International Law Commission’s work on international responsibility, the book discusses responsibility for human rights violations taking place in refugee camps being administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its implementing partners. It will be launched at the Bergen Resource Centre for International Development in Bergen, Norway, on May 22, 2014. Protecting Civilians is the first book in the International Refugee Law book series, edited by Dr David Cantor and published by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. In the same series, the edited volume Refuge from Inhumanity? War Refugees and International Humanitarian Law will be out in September.

Long Road to Recognition for Egypt’s Nubians

Egypt has long  denied the existence of any minorities, despite being home to both ethnic and religious minorities. Nubians and other groups, such as Amazigh, have long been marginalized and suffered from exclusion and oppression. The 2011 Egyptian Revolution and the fall of President Mubarak ignited demands for the Egyptian government to recognize minority rights, and provided a unique opportunity for Egypt’s Nubian community to mobilize. While the 2012 Constitution proved to be a setback, the 2014 Constitution is the first legal instrument in Egypt to explicitly acknowledge minority rights. For Egypt’s Nubian community, it represents an important milestone.

Nubians have inhabited villages along the banks of the Nile for thousands of years. Here, they retained their own distinct language, customs and culture. Following the Condominium Agreement of 1899, which solidified the boundary between Egypt and Sudan, this group was arbitrarily divided between the two countries. Approximately half of the Nubians were forced under direct Egyptian rule. The industrialization of Egypt during the early 20th century, when a series of dams were built by the British colonial powers along the Nile, effectively uprooted the Nubian population. In the 1950s, President Nasser initiated the Aswan High Dam project, which virtually flooded all of Old Nubia, today found under Lake Nasser. In 1963, Egyptian authorities began a program of forced resettlement of approximately 50,000 Nubians from some 45 villages to new, purpose-built communities in southern Egypt. Little care was taken to safeguard the culture and traditions of the Nubian people, housing soon proved inadequate, and schools taught exclusively in Arabic. Dissatisfied with their new living conditions, a large proportion migrated to other parts of Egypt. Continue reading