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The Development of International Refugee Protection through the Practice of the UN Security Council

Christiane Ahlborn


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1This paper examines the ambivalent influence of the UN Security Council’s practice on the development of international refugee protection since the early 1990s. While the international refugee protection regime did not originally foresee a role for the Security Council, the increasingly complex security challenges in the post-Cold War era have led to its de facto inclusion in the institutional framework of protection. After having used its wide discretionary powers under the UN Charter to link refugee flows with its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, the Security Council thus began to strengthen different aspects of international refugee protection. Within a general trend in favour of human security in its activities, it has addressed the responsibility for root causes of forced displacement, supported the assistance to and protection of refugees and internally displaced persons in conflict situations, and promoted durable solutions. On the downside, the Security Council’s interaction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its encroachment on the General Assembly’s traditional field of competence have also given rise to criticism. Both the Security Council’s peace operations and its economic sanctions regimes have contributed to the erosion of established refugee protection standards. However, the Security Council’s increasing focus on human security alongside State security has mitigated some of the negative repercussions of its inherently political actions on international refugee protection. This paper concludes that, on balance, the Security Council has made a considerable contribution to the strengthening of international refugee protection by enforcing, developing and even making norms that place the individual at the center of the international security agenda.


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