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close this bookLaw in Humanitarian Crises Volume I : How Can International Humanitarian Law Be Made Effective in Armed Conflicts? (European Commission Humanitarian Office)
close this folderInternational Humanitarian Law and the Law of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons
close this folderII. The Inadequacy of International Refugee Law in Situations of Armed Conflict
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. The Need for Reconsidering the Refugee Definitions in International Law
View the document2. The Need for Improving the Substantive Rights of Refugees in Situations of Armed Conflict
View the document3. The Need for Improving International Co-operation with Regard to Refugees from Situations of Armed Conflict
View the document4. The Need for Further Consideration of International Action in Favour of Refugees from Situations of Armed Conflict

4. The Need for Further Consideration of International Action in Favour of Refugees from Situations of Armed Conflict

The ever-increasing number of refugees from situations of armed conflict results not only in unspeakable human suffering, but also constitutes a serious threat to the economic, political and social stability and development of many refugee-receiving countries and, in many instances, a threat to the peace in a given region of the world. These factors entail the need to further consider specific kinds of international action in favour of such persons which, in addition, would contribute to reducing the aforementioned risks to international peace and stability resulting from such refugee situations. Among the various international actions that might be discussed in this context, the issues of humanitarian intervention and voluntary repatriation deserve particular attention. However, with a view to the fact that both issues have, in recent years, been extensively dealt with by international scholars, it seems justified to only briefly present some of their views of specific relevance for this paper.

a) The Issue of Humanitarian Intervention

In particular as a consequence of the Second Gulf War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the conflicts in Haiti, Liberia, Somalia and Rwanda, the issue of humanitarian intervention has, again, been moved into the focus of international law and politics. With regard to the problem of refugees from situations of armed conflict, (armed) humanitarian intervention might, in principle, play a twofold role: firstly, such interventions might take place, at a very early stage of such armed conflicts, in order to prevent large-scale movements of persons from the war-stricken areas into neighbouring countries; secondly, at a later stage, they might be effected in order to halt such influxes by removing their root causes and, at the same time, to bring about the factual situation necessary for the success of programmes of voluntary repatriation.

Without going into detail, which is not possible within the framework of this paper, it is suggested that the recent practice, in particular of the UN Security Council and the pertinent reaction of the international community, show that contemporary international law, in principle, permits humanitarian intervention. On the other hand, it must be stated that there does not seem to exist universal consensus as to the conditions for the lawfulness of such actions; this deplorable lack results, in particular, from the most unfortunate absence of a stringent, politically unbiased and non-selective practice of the international community as a whole and its most powerful member States in this respect. It may be stated, however, that there seems to exist consensus that humanitarian interventions may be considered only as a last resort for the achievement of the aims mentioned above; that they should not be undertaken as a uni- or multilateral action without the explicit authorization or approval of the competent body of the UN, i.e. the Security Council, or (possibly) regional organisations; and that, since any recourse to humanitarian intervention is fraught with the risk of potential abuse, the standards for its deployment and operation must be very carefully developed.

In theory, humanitarian interventions do constitute quite an efficient tool in the hands of the international community to achieve the aforesaid aims. Recent practice shows, however, that their success depends upon many factors; above all, the international community - or, at least, those of its members that provide the military forces - must have fully agreed upon the political aims to be achieved by and the means to be employed during such interventions.

b) Voluntary Repatriation and Other Durable Solutions

For quite some time, voluntary repatriation has been generally considered as the preferable durable solution to refugee situations Obviously, refugees will only return to their homes if they are guaranteed that the root causes of their external displacement have ceased to exist. Their confidence in the stability of changes in their country of origin would surely be strengthened and their fear of being subjected again to severe violations of their fundamental rights under international human rights and humanitarian law considerably reduced if their repatriation could be internationally monitored. This leads to the issue of internationally organized and implemented repatriation programmes many of which have been successfully operated by UNHCR.

The crucial issue, however, relates to the question of whether and to what extent the international community is prepared to enforce such fundamental changes to the political situation in the respective country of origin and what means might be used for this purpose. It is suggested that the international community continues to further strengthen and implement the approach of some of its member States to make the granting of financial and other assistance dependent upon not only the human rights record of a given government but also of its preparedness to re-admit its nationals who have fled abroad prior to the enactment of such fundamental changes of its policies that are indispensable for the success of any programme of voluntary repatriation.

With a view to the quite considerable burden to be borne by many countries of refuge and the threat to their economic, political and social stability resulting therefrom, it is suggested that in extreme cases the international community might even resort to armed humanitarian interventions in order to enforce such fundamental changes.