Summary Conclusions of the Roundtable on the Future of Refugee Convention Supervision
[James Hathaway is the James E. and Sarah A. Degan Professor of Law and the Director, Program in Refugee and Asylum Law at the University of Michigan Law School]
Finally, a break-through on the conundrum of Refugee Convention supervision! The UN Refugee Convention has languished for more than 60 years without any formal mechanism to provide arms-length international oversight of treaty obligations. While state parties agree to assist UNHCR to implement its duty of institutional supervision, refugee law has no equivalent of the Human Rights Committee or Committee Against Torture to provide transparent evaluation of state compliance, or to provide authoritative guidance — for example, on such key questions as who qualifies for Convention refugee status, or the rights held by refugees under international law.
In September 2012, Justice Tony North of the Australian Federal Court (and former president of the International Association of Refugee Law Judges) and I co-convened an expert meeting at Downing College, Cambridge, to try to find a way forward on supervision of the Refugee Convention. Drawing on studies prepared by the Cambridge Pro Bono Project (to be published later this year), a group of leading jurists and scholars from around the world conceived a means to break the deadlock. The essence of the mechanism proposed is the establishment of a Special Committee of Experts, comprised of judges and others tasked with the issuance of advisory opinions at the request of the High Commissioner, courts, and specialist tribunals. The just-released Summary Conclusions of the Roundtable (.pdf) are now available.