50th Anniversary of the Refugee Convention: Amnesty International appeals for further accession

The human rights organization appeals to those countries that have not acceded to this cornerstone of international refugee protection to do so without delay or reservation.

'Only through a global commitment to human rights and refugee protection principles can the growing global problem of forced displacement of people be addressed,' Amnesty International said.

With the scale of human rights violations that force people into exile continuing unabated, the number of those displaced is likely to remain high in coming years. 'While the number of people needing international protection continues to grow, governments are more concerned with keeping refugees away from their borders,' Amnesty International noted.

Governments increasingly show a callous disregard for the impact of policies deliberately designed to prevent people who are genuinely fleeing persecution from reaching safety in their countries. Restrictive approaches include limiting access to their countries, harshly applying asylum criteria, detaining asylum seekers, forcibly repatriating refugees and fining airlines and shipping companies if they carry people who do not have travel documents.

'The new battery of techniques aimed at keeping refugees at bay means that many people are denied a real chance to escape from torture and death threats or are sent back to countries where they run the risk of getting thrown in jail or handed over to executioners,' Amnesty International added.

'One of the key principles spelled out in the 1951 Refugee Convention and general international law is that of non-refoulement - that no one should be forcibly returned to a country where his or her life or freedom would be at risk. Yet, half a century after the Convention, evidence shows that this principle is simply ignored and that people are in fact sent back to countries where their life or liberty is at risk,' Amnesty International said.

'Governments have made the rules on refugees, and they should play by those rules. Any attempts to change these rules could put at risk thousands of lives,' the human rights organization said.

Amnesty International further calls on the world's governments to support the effort of the UNHCR and other international organizations which work to protect and help refugees.

Background

Currently 137 states are parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and 136 to its subsequent 1967 Protocol. 140 states are parties to either the Convention or its Protocol. Even though this number represents a clear majority of the member states of the United Nations, accession and lifting of reservations to these instruments will be an important step forward for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers globally and a demonstration of the commitment of all states to the values enshrined in these instruments.

The fundamental importance of the Refugee Convention lies not only in the fact that it is a landmark in the setting of standards for the treatment of refugees. The convention is also relevant because it constitutes one of the most remarkable achievements in the long battle for realisation of the ideal of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction. It is highly significant in this regard that the most fundamental of the standards embodied in this instrument, the principle of non-refoulement has been reflected in a number of universal and regional human rights instruments and has been recognized as a principle of international customary law.

Some of the states that have not acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its Protocol are members of the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Programme (EXCOM) which oversees the work of the UNHCR. These are Bangladesh, India, Lebanon, Pakistan and Thailand. Amnesty International specifically calls on these states to accede to the Refugee Convention and its Protocol.

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