Born into Statelessness: Unintended Consequences of the End of Birthright Citizenship

In October 2018, in response to growing Central and South American migrant population fleeing violence and approaching the United States, President Trump made a drastic statement that he would seek to end jus soli, or birthright citizenship, through an Executive Order. Lindsey Graham, a Republican Senator from South Carolina, lauded the President’s statement, and indicated that he intended to introduce legislation to the same effect. If successful, this new citizenship law could have a devastating impact on children born in the United States to Central and South American individuals, leaving thousands of them stateless.

As a matter of international law, states are free to determine who is or is not a national of their country without interference from the international community or international law, except in the case of stateless persons. The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness are the two primary international instruments guiding the rights of individuals and the actions of states with regard to nationality. Many international instruments affirm the right an individual has to nationality. Specifically, the 1954 Convention defines a stateless person as someone “who is not considered as a national by any State under operation of its law.” The 1961 Convention requires that states grant nationality to those born on their territory who otherwise would be stateless, and prohibits states from withdrawing nationality from an individual when that individual would then be rendered stateless. Accordingly, under international law, the United States government is free to end, or further restrict, birthright citizenship but only in accordance with the provisions in the 1961 Convention.

Issues arise in practice when the domestic laws of nations conflict, leaving individuals in situations of de facto statelessness. According to the Pew Research Center, about 250,000 children were born in the United States to non-citizen immigrant parents in 2014, with many born to parents who lacked legal status. Because of the domestic laws of the countries from which these immigrants originate, children born to immigrant parents in the United States may lack citizenship of their state of origin. They would therefore be rendered stateless if the United States were to curtail birthright citizenship, in contravention of the 1961 Convention.

For example, the law of Brazil stipulates that individuals born abroad to a Brazilian parent are eligible to acquire citizenship after becoming an adult only if their parent registered their birth with the Brazilian authorities or if they returned to live in Brazil as a child. If the individual is not registered or does not reside in Brazil before the age of majority, he or she is not entitled to Brazilian citizenship, regardless of the nationality of his or her parents. As of 2014, there were approximately 336,000 Brazilian immigrants in the United States.

There are several issues with these requirements of affirmative action on the part of the parents or child. First, to register a child with the authorities of their own birth country, parents must first demonstrate their own citizenship, which may prove problematic. Parents could do this by showing a passport, birth certificate, or identity card. However, these individuals may have fled their homes quickly without such documents, and would therefore risk being unable to register their children even if they desired to do so.

Second, even if the child of Brazilian parents wished to acquire Brazilian citizenship, the decision is entirely in the hands of his or her parents. His or her parents must be the ones to register the child’s birth with the relevant authorities; no other adult is eligible to do this and the child himself cannot make himself known to authorities later in order to qualify for citizenship. If this is not done, the child must return to reside Brazil before the age of majority. For most children, this is a decision entirely out of their control.

Therefore, should the U.S. end birthright citizenship, children born in the U.S. of Brazilian parents would be at risk of de facto statelessness by no fault of their own. This example is meant to be illustrative, though not exhaustive. Many groups of immigrants in the United States would be forced into similarly precarious positions. The domestic laws of many Central and South American countries require parents located out of the country to register their children’s births with the national authorities in order for them to be eligible for citizenship. There are many reasons why parents fleeing violence, persecution, and economic crises may not wish to register the birth of their children. Whatever the reason, innocent children without a choice would suffer as a result of this change of law. Without careful consideration of the potential impact of this change to US birthright law, many children residing in the United States would be rendered de facto stateless and vulnerable as a result.  

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CfP: Law, Translation, and Activism

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The editors of the Routledge Handbook of Translation and Activism (Rebecca Ruth Gould and Kayvan Tahmesebian), are seeking contributions relating to the intersections of law, translation, and activism. The full CfP is here. If you would be interested in contributing chapters dealing with any of the following themes (or other themes engaging with law and translation) please get in touch (preferably to globalliterarytheory@gmail.com):

  • the politics of court interpretation
  • indigenous language rights
  • migration law
  • law in multilingual societies
  • translating human rights
  • legal translation as a profession and technique

This volume will be published in 2019 as part of the Routledge Handbooks in Translation and Interpreting Studies. A preliminary website for the volume has been set up here.

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Human Trafficking as a Gendered Phenomenon: CEDAW and a missing jigsaw piece – Part II

In the first part of this blog, we provided a summary of our article “Human Trafficking as A Gendered Phenomenon: CEDAW in Perspective in which we argue that the CEDAW Committee is an important actor whose voice should be heard when discussing States obligations towards the elimination of trafficking and that Article 6 of the Convention needs further clarification/development.

Since publication of our article we have continued to ask ourselves how and why trafficking is divorced from the issue of violence against women within CEDAW’s framework. This posts sets out part of this brief history as a prelude to our article and as part of the history of women’s rights advocacy on these issues. We hope that others can elaborate on the schism between Article 6 and violence against women, and the ongoing lack of a GR on human trafficking.

Gender-Based Violence Against Women

Last year, the CEDAW Committee updated General Recommendation No 19 on violence against women in its General Recommendation No 35 (2017). This GR has garnered much attention for both its content and for its procedure with over 100 women’s groups, NGOs and stakeholders contributing to its promulgation.[1] The Recommendation, which acts as authoritative guidance on the Committee’s interpretation of the Convention’s provisions in relation to violence, acknowledges that despite advances in the field since GR19, gender-based violence against women remains pervasive in all countries of the world and it manifests in a continuum, in a range of settings.[2] The updated substantive statement on gender-based violence against women is a reminder of where we have come and where we still have to go to eradicate violence, and make the right to live a life free from violence a reality.[3]

GR 35 however does not however deal with the issue of human trafficking of women and girls. While trafficking has been mentioned in a number of the Committee’s General Recommendations (GR 26, 28, and 35) the Committee has only done so in passing, instead commenting in its GR on migrant workers that the phenomenon of trafficking could be more comprehensively addressed in its own GR on Article 6. It has remained a mystery to us as to why the Committee has remained interpretatively silent on an important substantive article, leading us to question why Article 6 and violence against women have become separated and whether the Committee has always taken this approach.

An Archaeological Dig

It is well known that the Convention did not include a substantive article on violence against women and that instead GR19 marked an important step in the Committee’s interpretation of the Convention to make explicit the link between violence and discrimination. An analysis of the CEDAW Committee’s session minutes indicates that at the time of drafting GR19, Article 6 (trafficking) formed an integral part of that discussion. GR19 was adopted at the eleventh session, and it was and still is a landmark statement on gender-based violence. It provides an article by article approach setting out how the different articles of the Convention interact and relate to violence against women.

Interestingly, the minutes of the 10th and 11th sessions seem to indicate that originally violence and trafficking were to be considered together in one general recommendation.  The report mentions an anticipated discussion of Article 6 of the Convention and that members were asked to consider the report of the Secretary General on Violence against Women in all its forms, which contained the report of the Expert Group Meeting on Violence against Women, held in Vienna in 1991. We then see that a member (anonymised) expresses concern over the lack of coordination of the CEDAW Committee with the Expert Group and the Commission of the Status of Women. Different experts voiced their consideration at the risk of duplication. One member asked if “it was perhaps necessary to have two separate recommendations: one on violence and one on article 6”.

The report then records that GR19 was adopted as a response to the Expert Group Meeting on Violence against Women and that comments of the Working Group on Article 6, would be picked up at a later session. Ms Bustelo and Ms Aouij volunteered to prepare draft general comments for the next session. At the 12th session, the Working Group recommended that the work should be continued. The minutes of the 12th session thus further indicate that there has been long-standing work on a General Recommendation on Article 6 yet it is unclear from the later minutes what happened and why this GR has not come to fruition. This mystery is underlined further by the Committee’s own statement in the GR on migrant women that there should be a separate recommendation in relation to Article 6 and trafficking.

Conclusion

The work of the Committee continues today and is phenomenally important to women’s rights advocates. The Committee’s work on gender-based violence against women as a form of discrimination together with its specialised status in interpreting human rights norms and obligations in relation to women has been significant and influential. In the context where regional and international courts and tribunals have yet to grasp how trafficking is a gendered phenomenon CEDAW’s interpretative expertise is welcome, and in our view, long overview. Understandably, the Committee has many competing issues to deal with, and we recognise that Article 6 presents particular theoretical and political challenges.  However, the seriousness and pervasiveness of the violations of women and girls’ rights who suffer from human trafficking and exploitation in prostitution demands the Committee’s specialised and expert action. The enactment of GR35 forms another historical moment for the Committee, and for us another reminder that more has to be done to tackle trafficking against women and girls.

[1] ‘The CEDAW Committee’s General Recommendation 35. A renewed vision for a world free of gender-based violence against women’, available at http://ehrac.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/EHRAC-Winter-2017-WEB.pdf.

[2] ‘CEDAW General Recommendation 35 draws an explicit link between gender, discrimination and conflict-related violence against women’, available at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/wps/2017/09/12/cedaw-general-recommendation-35-draws-an-explicit-link-between-gender-discrimination-and-conflict-related-violence-against-women/

[3] ‘CEDAW General Recommendation 35 on violence against women is a significant step forward’, available at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/wps/2017/09/06/cedaw-general-recommendation-35-on-violence-against-women-is-a-significant-step-forward/

Human Trafficking as a Gendered Phenomenon – Part I

This is part 1 of a two-part post on human trafficking as a gendered phenomenon. In this first part we provide a brief contextualisation to the issue and introduce our recently published article examining the relationship between the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and human trafficking. In the second post, we take a historical look at how the issue of trafficking became divorced from the Committee’s work on violence against women.

Trafficking in human beings is a gendered phenomenon.[1] An estimated 79% of all detected trafficking victims are women and children and traffickers are ‘overwhelmingly male’.[2] As the former Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences (Special Rapporteur on VAWG) commented in her 15 year review of the mandate, human trafficking is one of the major areas of concern with regards to violence against women (alongside domestic violence, sexual violence in conflict and reproductive rights violations).[3]  The Special Rapporteur on VAWG commented that there has been a marked shift on policy in this area from a ‘prostitution framework’ to a framework which places human rights at the centre of the debate. The Declaration on Violence against Women (DEVAW) confirms this view and recognizes human trafficking as a form of violence against women (Article 2(b)). Further, violence against women has now been recognized as a form of discrimination against women.[4] It is therefore clear that human trafficking is a form of violence and discrimination against women.

More recently, trafficking has been recognised as one of the main forms of violence that women face in the context of migration.[5] Trafficked women and girls often face different forms of gender-based violence such as sexual violence, rape, violation of their reproductive rights, and slavery both in destination and during their trip. Trafficking may constitute torture, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, and it has been identified as a threat to international peace and security by the Security Council (S/RES/2331 (2016)). States of origin, transit, and destination have obligations to prevent trafficking, protect victims (within their territory and from refoulement to a country where there is a risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including the risk of re-trafficking), and to prosecute traffickers. For States to comply with these obligations, victims must be properly identified and identification proceedings must be put in place at strategic points on migration routes and access to asylum proceedings must be granted.

In practice, much remains to be done to implement a human rights and a gender approach to trafficking that can provide justice to those who have suffered violations of their rights due to human trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced labour and other forms of exploitation, slavery and servitude. Most States aim to combat human trafficking from a migrant model a criminal justice perspective and more recently a security approach, thus neglecting the rights of trafficking victims.

In our article “Human Trafficking as A Gendered Phenomenon: CEDAW in Perspective”, we argue that CEDAW is an important human rights instrument in the fight against trafficking in human beings. By way of brief introduction, the Convention is an international human rights treaty dedicated to women and girls. It has been described as ‘the definitive international legal instrument requiring respect for and observance of the human rights of women.[6] At the core of the Women’s Convention is the eradication of discrimination against women and States parties to the Convention accept wide-ranging obligations to promote equality in all spheres of life.[7]

Trafficking is expressly prohibited under CEDAW in Article 6, which mandates states to take all appropriate measures to supress trafficking and the exploitation of prostitution. We argued that given the disproportionate number of women and girls who are trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour, the Convention is a valuable instrument, contextualising trafficking in the context of structural inequality, violence and discrimination. Further, the Committee’s General Recommendation No.30 and General Recommendation No. 35 point to some of the underlying factos which make women vulnerable to being trafficked including conflict, extractive industries, global supply chains and natural disasters. Significantly no State party has entered a reservation to Article 6.

However, Article 6 does not define the terms trafficking and exploitation of prostitution and the scope and contours of the obligation remain uncertain. Through an analysis of the Committee’s jurisprudence, we found that the Committee has yet to find a violation of Article 6 of the Convention finding all cases pleading Article 6 inadmissible. Further, the Committee has yet to draft a specific general recommendation on Article 6 which seems to be a glaring omission. CEDAW should make good its promise and provide substantive guidance on the scope of Article 6 of the Convention and States obligations to suppress and tackle trafficking. We argue that this is especially necessary given the lack of gender and structural analysis of trafficking by other regional and international courts and bodies and the brevity with which trafficking is dealt with in General Recommendation No 35 on violence against women.

[1] The Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons. ‘The gender dimensions of human trafficking’, Issue Brief #4, 2017.

[2] The UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2016 notes that an increasing number of men have been detected as trafficking victims, United Nations Publication. Available at www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/2016_Global_Report_on_Trafficking_in_Persons.pdf

[3] 15 years of The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, available at www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/15YearReviewofVAWMandate.pdf

[4] General Recommendation No. 35 (CEDAW) see paragraph 1 and 7. Opuz v Turkey (2010) 50 EHRR 28.

[5] Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on Migration-Related Torture and Ill-Treatment, February 2018, A/HRC/37/50, available at www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Torture/A_HRC_37_50_EN.pdf

[6] Rebecca Cook ‘Reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women’ 30 Virginia J Intl’l Law (1990) 643, at 643.

[7] Andrew Byrnes and Marsha A. Freeman ‘The Impact of the CEDAW Convention: Paths to Equality A Study for the World Bank’ University of New South Wales Faculty of Law Research Series 2012, paper 7.

Women challenge sexism in U.S. and Canadian guest worker programs through bold and innovative NAFTA labor petitions

In July  2016, UFCW Canada and Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM)  filed petitions under NAFTA’s labor side agreement alleging sex discrimination in recruitment for the Canadian  Seasonal Orange tiger liliesAgricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and the U.S. H-2A and H-2B agricultural and low wage visa programs. In early 2018, CDM filed a supplement to its petition, arguing that sex discrimination is pervasive in recruitment for professional visa programs as well as low wage visa programs.

Because of sex discrimination in recruitment, less than 4 percent of the workers who participate in U.S. and Canadian agricultural and low wage guest worker programs are women. While working conditions in guest worker programs are rife with human and labor rights issues, they still represent economic opportunity for women who would like to participate.  Moreover, women who are excluded are forced into migration through informal channels, leading to the risk of violence, human trafficking, and even worse working conditions.

These two bold and innovative petitions highlight in a tangible and human way the bifurcation of global migrant labor markets.  Global migrant labor markets bifurcated based on gender exclude women from economic opportunity based on gender stereotyping. Discrimination in recruitment and treatment of women in the global migrant labor market is the norm, not the exception.

My forthcoming article in the Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal discusses and compares the facts and claims raised in each petition under applicable legal frameworks in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC). The article explores possible outcomes of the petitions given the nuances and political environments in the Canadian and U.S. cases and the current state of relations between the Government of Mexico and its North American neighbors. Finally, the article places sexism and gender stereotyping in North American guest worker programs in an international context, discussing other examples of sexism in the global labor market and existing norms in ILO Conventions and CEDAW Recommendation No. 26 on Women Migrant Workers.

Row of flowers and sidewalkIn the Canadian case, the article argues that the Governments of Canada and Mexico should renegotiate international agreements that form the SAWP to implement the recommendations of the Mexican Council on the Prevention of Discrimination. In the U.S. case, the article argues that the Government of Mexico should pursue the establishment of an Evaluative Committee of Experts (ECE) under Article 23 of the NAALC if the U.S. does not enact and enforce meaningful reforms to eliminate sex discrimination in the H-2A and H-2B visa programs.

This article is the direct result of the supportive research community that has grown up around the IntLawGrrls blog. I first presented it as part of a wonderful panel at the IntLawGrrls 10th Birthday Conference in Athens, Georgia in March 2017.  Moderated by Jaya Ramji-Nogales and featuring Karen Bravo, Deepa Das Acevedo, and Urvashi Jain, this panel focused on exclusion – whether the exclusion of transgender children from schools in India, of persons from their fundamental humanity through slavery and human trafficking, of women from the Hindu temple at Sabarimala, or of women from economic opportunities represented by international guest worker programs.  I am grateful to my fellow panelists, to IntLawGrrls, and to the Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia Law School for a transformative experience.

Olga PedrozaMy article is dedicated in part to Olga Pedroza of Las Cruces, New Mexico, who unfortunately passed away earlier this year. Olga was my boss when I worked as a farmworker intern at Southern New Mexico Legal Services during law school. Olga introduced me to a world I never imagined, where migrant farm workers sleep on sidewalks in El Paso to catch 4:00 a.m. school buses to ride hours away to pick chiles, tomatoes, and onions in Southern New Mexico.  It was because of Olga that I sat in a renovated chicken coop in Artesia, New Mexico, talking to a farmworker who told me that he and other farmworkers did not deserve any better. After her retirement from Southern New Mexico Legal Services, Olga served as a Law Cruces City Councilor for 8 years. Olga was a tireless and lifelong advocate for the excluded. She will be missed.

Nationwide Class Action in the U.S. Protects the Right to Seek Asylum

A Seattle-based federal court has stepped in to protect the right to seek asylum, deciding in favor of a nationwide class constituting thousands of asylum-seekers in a case with important implications for the Trump administration’s recently-announced quota policy for U.S. Immigration Courts. On March 29, 2018, Chief U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Washington Ricardo S. Martinez issued an 18-page order granting the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment in the Mendez Rojas v. DHS case. Judge Martinez’s forceful decision shores up the due process rights of asylum-seekers under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and statutory rights grounded in the federal Immigration and Naturalization Act and Administrative Procedure Act, as well as protections enshrined in international refugee law more broadly.

The named plaintiffs in the suit are asylum seekers from Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Collectively, they stand in for two classes of individuals certified by the Court last year, those who declared a fear of return to their home countries and have undergone a credible fear interview and been released to pursue their asylum claims, and, second, those released without first undergoing the credible fear interview. None of the named plaintiffs received notice of the one-year filing deadline or a meaningful mechanism to timely file their asylum applications. Asylum seekers must file their asylum applications within one year in order to receive asylum protection.

The class action lawsuit, brought by counsel from the American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrants Rights Project, and Dobrin & Han, PC, included asylum seekers released from detention who are in removal proceedings in immigration court and who have yet to be placed into removal proceedings and who were not given notice of the one-year filing deadline to apply for asylum.

The Court agreed with the plaintiffs that the lack of notice to asylum seekers violates the congressional intent behind the one-year filing deadline. Created by Congress in 1996, the one-year filing deadline was ostensibly designed to guard against fraudulent asylum claims. The law’s most ardent supporters, however, made clear that the implementation of the deadline should not impede protection for genuine asylum-seekers. During discussions on the Senate floor, for instance, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) stated:

Like you, I am committed to ensuring that those with legitimate claims of asylum are not returned to persecution, particularly for technical deficiencies. If the time limit is not implemented fairly, or cannot be implemented fairly, I will be prepared to revisit this issue in a later Congress.

The Court also relied on U.S. Supreme Court precedent, specifically Mullanenoting that procedural due process requires that notice be “reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.” In this case, the Court found that the publically available DHS documents discussing the one-year filing deadline were not reasonably calculated to provide adequate notice to the asylum-seeking plaintiffs. The Court note that some of the asylum seekers in the class believed they had actually applied for asylum by virtue of undergoing a credible fear interview, in which they explained their fear of return to their home country in great detail to a USCIS asylum officer.

The Court also highlighted the problems caused by informing someone that they will be instructed on how to apply for asylum in court in the future, while the court dates referenced often take place well beyond the one-year filing deadline imposed. My 2016 article in the Wisconsin Law Reviewexamines the problems at the intersection of our burgeoning immigration court backlog and the one-year filing deadline in greater detail.

Judge Martinez signaled his sympathy regarding the extreme vulnerability of asylum-seekers, grounding his decision in the fact that “many class members have suffered severe trauma, do not speak English, are unfamiliar with the United States’ complicated immigration legal system, and do not have access to counsel.”He went on to conclude that DHS’ failure to provide adequate notice is a violation of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Responding to DHS’ argument that the Court owed deference to agency “procedure,” the Court stated simply, “no deference is owed to procedures that violate a statute or the Constitution.” Currently, there is a ping pong back and forth between the agencies overseeing the asylum process. Until a Notice to Appear is filed with U.S. Immigration Court, the court will not accept an asylum application. If a case appears likely to be headed for a court appearance, however, USCIS, which includes the asylum office, routinely denies jurisdiction. There is currently no actual deadline for ICE to file a Notice to Appear with immigration court, leaving asylum-seekers and attorneys in limbo and unable to meet the deadline–a “technical deficiency” in the purest sense.

Importantly, while declining to reach the constitutional argument for a meaningful application mechanism, the Court found that defendants’ failure to provide a uniform mechanism by which an asylum-seeker could actually timely apply for asylum, assuming she gained knowledge of the deadline, violated the asylum statute and the Administrative Procedure Act. The Court concluded by ordering DHS to provide notice of the one-year filing deadline to class members who have already been released. Further, Judge Martinez ordered that DHS give notice to future asylum-seekers prior to or at the time of release them from detention. DHS is also required to adopt and publicize uniform procedural mechanisms to ensure class members can timely file their asylum applications. Implementation and the reception from immigration judges nationwide to the decision remains to be seen. Already, advocates shared a report of a judge at the Arlington immigration court refusing to enter the Mendez Rojas decision into the record because he stated that the Executive Office for Immigration Review is not bound by the Administrative Procedure Act.

Assuming implementation is successful, this decision represents a win for asylum-seekers and brings greater clarity and organization to an already-overwhelmed and backlogged immigration court system. Judge Martinez’s order represents yet another instance in which the federal courts have intervened in administrative confusion to ensure constitutional due process and justice for immigrants. The decision is a step forward in upholding American values and adhering to our domestic and international legal obligations to protect refugees from return to countries where they would face a threat to their life or freedom.

The Crime of Aggression under International Criminal Law: Links with Refugee Law

The 16th Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is already more than halfway done. Many of the themes at the ASP this year is worthy of note, including the election of six new judges, planning for the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as well as consideration of activation of the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression.

Of particular interest is the ICC’s activation of the crime of aggression, which will be the focus of this blog post. The crime of aggression is defined under the Rome Statute as ‘the planning, preparation, initiation or execution, by a person in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a State, of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations’. The activation and exercise of the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression is of significance because there are outstanding jurisdictional issues which are to be discussed at the ASP, including whether all States Parties are subjected to the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, or whether only States Parties which have ratified the crime of aggression amendments are subjected to the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression (see Coalition of the ICC Backgrounder). This blog post will consider the impact the activation of the crime of aggressions may have on international refugee law.

ASP Work Programme

ASP Work Programme

One can see several parallels between international criminal law and refugee law. While at first glance, international criminal and refugee law may seem distinct from one another, in fact, when operating together, these two fields of law may enhance the functions of the other. First, the purposes of international criminal law and refugee law draw parallels with one another. Second, while international refugee law regime’s main purpose is to protect refugees, in order to do so, it must also protect the institution for asylum, by preventing those who have committed grave crimes from gaining refugee status and corresponding protection. Here, international refugee law borrows from international criminal law so as to ascertain what type of individuals would be excluded from international protection.

 One view of international criminal law’s purpose is to bring justice to victims through the prosecution of an individual for international crimes, i.e. by holding an individual liable for committing mass atrocities. The command responsibility rule is illustrative of this purpose in that high-ranking individuals can be held responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates. One view of international refugee law is that it offers the widest protection to those deserving through the granting of refugee status. Article 1F(a) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) prevents those who are undeserving of international protection from benefiting from that protection. This provision applies to those who have committed crimes prior to admission as refugees. Article 1F acts to preserve the institution of asylum, and to safeguard the receiving country from criminals who present a danger to that country’s security. Borrowing from international criminal law, international refugee law determines who is deserving of refugee status by excluding those who have committed serious international crimes. By working together, international criminal law brings perpetrators to justice, while international refugee law excludes those who try to find safe havens through acquiring refugee status and corresponding protection.

International refugee law borrows from international criminal law when determining which individuals would be excluded from refugee status under Article 1F(a) of the Refugee Convention. Under Article 1F(a), individuals are excluded from refugee status and corresponding protection where there are ‘serious reasons for considering that: (a) he has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provision in respect of such crimes’. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has stated that ‘a ‘crime of aggression’ is essentially a ‘crime against peace’’ in its commentary. A crime against peace is defined as ‘the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations’. This definition of a crime against peace was drawn from the United Nations General Assembly 1974 definition of ‘aggression’ and such definition has been retained in the International Law Commission’s Draft Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind. As can be seen, international refugee law draws upon international criminal law in defining the relevant crimes under Article 1F(a) of the Refugee Convention. This type of close relationship between international criminal and refugee law may enhance respect for the rule of law internationally, while preventing individuals who do not deserve to be protected under the international refugee law regime from attaining refugee status.

As briefly demonstrated, while both international criminal law and refugee law may serve different functions, these two branches of international law, when operating together, may draw upon the other to enhance international respect for the rule of law. The negotiation between States Parties at the ASP will likely clarify the activation and jurisdiction of the ICC over the crime of aggression, which may, in turn, inform how Article 1F(a) may be interpreted by international refugee law adjudicators. Now more than ever, the institution for asylum must be protected from potential abuse by perpetrators of international crimes, so that only those deserving may be given the widest possible protection under the international refugee law regime.

This blogpost and Jenny Poon’s attendance to the 16th Assembly of States Parties in the framework of the Canadian Partnership for International Justice was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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