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Although the requirement to show a well-founded fear of “being persecuted” is at the heart of the refugee definition, the Refugee Convention does not define or elucidate the meaning to be given to this concept. Indeed, it is generally acknowledged that the drafters of the Convention intentionally declined to define “being persecuted” because they recognized the impossibility of enumerating in advance all of the forms of maltreatment that might legitimately entitle persons to benefit from international protection. The need for a flexible approach to “being persecuted” is especially important today given the duty under the 1967 Protocol to apply the refugee definition in a manner that ensures its relevance to “new refugee situations.”


Reproduced with permission. Originally published as Hathaway, James C. "Serious Harm." In The Law of Refugee Status , 182-287. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.