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Book Chapter

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The origins of refugee rights are closely intertwined with the emergence of the general system of international human rights law. Like international human rights, the refugee rights regime is a product of the twentieth century. Its contemporary codification by the United Nations took place just after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and was strongly influenced by the Declaration's nonnative structure. More fundamentally, however, the refugee rights regime draws heavily on the earlier precedents of the law of responsibility for injuries to aliens and international efforts to protect national minorities.

In this overview of the refugee rights regime, we highlight the conceptual contributions made by each of these bodies of international law to the emergence of specific treaties to govern the human rights of refugees. We then introduce the essential structure of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status ofRefugees, 1 still the primary source of refugee-specific rights in international law. Finally, we consider the relationship between the refugee rights ,regime and subsequently enacted treaties, particularly those that establish binding norms of international human rights law. We advance the view that refugee rights should be understood as a mechanism by which to answer situation- specific vulnerabilities that would otherwise deny refugees meaningful benefit of the more general system of human rights protection. Refugee rights do not exist as an alternative to, or in competition with, general human rights. Nor, however, has the evolution of a broad-ranging system of general human rights treaties rendered the notion of refugee-specific rights redundant.


Reprinted from The Protection of Human Rights in Europe, Collected Courses of the Academy of European Law, vol. 8, no. 2, 2000, 97-139, with permission of Kluwer Law International.