US Actions In Light Of The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees: This Doesn’t Look Good

I wrote yesterday about US violations of the Convention Against Torture, but of course US lawlessness and evil doesn’t end there.

Let’s read about the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Don’t be confused by the fact that the UNCSR is limited to regulating the treatment of European refugees who migrated before 1952. In 1967 the UN passed an amendment that simply stated that the convention protects all refugees in any time and any place – removing those restrictions but keeping the nature of the treaty’s requirements the same. There have been additional measures put in place by the UN to add additional protections in certain geographic regions for certain times, but when those special agreements are not in place, the fundamental protections of the 1951 treaty still require a minimum standard of just treatment to be followed by any and every nation which is a signatory.

First, here’s a little of what the High Commissioner on Refugees has to say about the document:

…the 1951 Convention endorses a single definition of the term “refugee” in Article 1. The emphasis of this definition is on the protection of persons from politi- cal or other forms of persecution. A refugee, according to the Convention, is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

The Convention is both a status and rights-based instrument and is underpinned by a number of fundamental principles, most notably non-discrimination, non-penalization and non-refoulement.*1

While in practice there are probably discriminatory behaviors being undertaken by the US in how it handles the children of Europeans, Canadians, Australians, Kiwis and a few others vs how it handles the children of Latin American citizens who cross at the southern border, where the Trump administration is really screwed is non-penalization. In short, you’re not supposed to punish someone for claiming asylum (refugee status). When the Trump administration advertises that they know this sucks (conceding the horror so that they can shift the blame to the Democrats) in some fora, while in other fora they speak specifically about wanting to discourage Latin Americans from coming to the US to claim asylum, they are de facto admitting to breaking the UNCSR.

But does it get worse? Oh yes. It gets worse. It doesn’t require a specialist in public international law (or even a lawyer) to realize that this practice is seriously contrary to the norms established by the UNCSR. The very first substantive provision reads as follows:


considering that the unity of the family, the natural and fundamental group unit of society, is an essential right of the refugee, and that such unity is constantly threatened, and

noting with satisfaction that, according to the official commentary of the ad hoc Committee on Statelessness and Related Problems (E/1618, p. 40), the rights granted to a refugee are extended to members of his family,

recommends Governments to take the necessary measures for the protection of the refugee’s family especially with a view to:

(1) Ensuring that the unity of the refugee’s family is maintained particularly in cases where the head of the family has fulfilled the necessary conditions for admission to a particular country,
(2) Theprotectionofrefugeeswhoareminors,inparticularunaccompanied children and girls, with special reference to guardianship and adoption.

Read #1 again. The US has an obligation to

[Ensure] that the unity of the refugee’s family is maintained particularly in cases where the head of the family has fulfilled the necessary conditions for admission to a particular country,

I don’t think it’s possible for our lawlessness to be any more blatant.

*1: Refoulement, for those not in the know, is shipping someone back to the same country and situation they just left. While this is acceptable for those who are not refugees, it is not acceptable when someone seeking asylum has “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”. (Assuming that they don’t fall into one of the exceptions for the document, such as dual-citizenship refugees who are actually citizens of the country in which they are trying to claim asylum – this is rarely relevant, but can be – or refugees who are covered under a unique document addressing their specific situation – Palestinians, for example, are covered by such a document.)


*2: Meaning the national and NGO representatives that were present during negotiation of the treaty



  1. fledanow says

    The USA is in breach of the Convention but is there any body that can do anything about it? Does the USA submit to the jurisdiction of any court?

  2. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Well, sort of. What would happen is the HCR (High Commissioner on Refugees) would prepare a report stating that the US deserved a penalty and spelling out the evidence of the violation, then one or more bodies within the UN would vote on whether the member states should take action to punish the US. Then, if the vote is positive, individual states would be able to establish economic sanctions against powerful individuals, against certain corporations, or against the nation as a whole. Normally those sanctions are prohibited by trade agreements, but the fact that the UN found a violation and authorized member states to punish the US means that the trade agreements don’t prohibit sanctions issued for the purpose authorized by the UN.

    Now, the US could retaliate economically, but we do submit ourselves to the WTO, which is sort of a court of international trade. The WTO can force countries to end tariffs, sanctions, and other economic penalties and has a number of means of coercion to do it. The biggest means of coercion, its atomic bomb, if you will, is refusing to take cases from your nation if your nation doesn’t respect its rulings.

    This is TERRIBLE for a country like the US, because it’s the WTO that enforces US patents overseas. Without the WTO, anyone can look up the patents on file with the US patent office, copy our latest & greatest techs, then sell duplicate technology without spending any money on research and development.

    So, how it would work is Investigation => Report => UN Vote authorizing action => member states taking action, almost certainly being economic sanctions of some kind => US hits back with our own sanctions => case goes to WTO => WTO rules our sanctions illegal and the other countries’ sanctions authorized => US decides whether to pay back money for any damages caused by our sanctions while still facing the damage from other countries’ actions => US either abides by the WTO ruling and gets screwed or it tells the WTO to go Freud itself and gets screwed harder.

    That’s simplifying things of course, and it’s possible I’m missing a couple things in there somewhere, but I’m pretty sure this is a good general picture of what would happen. The UN can also vote to send in armed troops to prevent abuses, but that would NEVER happen with the US. That could literally start a war of the US vs the World and the UN wouldn’t do that, not least because in a US vs UN war, all the diplomats that live in New York City where UN headquarters lies would be kinda-sorta in big danger.

  3. fledanow says

    Thanks. I had no idea about that power of the WTO. It gives me a nice, cosy feeling inside. Of course, it requires the Un to act against the US but maybe, by now, it is pissed off enough.

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