is a principle in international law
Public international law concerns the structure and conduct of sovereign states; analogous entities, such as the Holy See; and intergovernmental organizations. To a lesser degree, international law also may affect multinational corporations and individuals, an impact increasingly evolving beyond...
, specifically refugee law
Refugee law is the branch of international law which deals with the rights and protection of refugees. It is related to, but distinct from, international human rights law and international humanitarian law, which deal respectively with human rights in general, and the conduct of war in...
, that concerns the protection of refugees from being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened. Unlike political asylum, which applies to those who can prove a well-grounded fear of persecution based on membership in a social group or class of persons, non-refoulement refers to the generic repatriation of people, generally refugee
A refugee is a person who outside her country of origin or habitual residence because she has suffered persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or because she is a member of a persecuted 'social group'. Such a person may be referred to as an 'asylum seeker' until...
s into war
War is a state of organized, armed, and often prolonged conflict carried on between states, nations, or other parties typified by extreme aggression, social disruption, and usually high mortality. War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political...
zones and other disaster
A disaster is a natural or man-made hazard that has come to fruition, resulting in an event of substantial extent causing significant physical damage or destruction, loss of life, or drastic change to the environment...
Non-refoulement is a jus cogens
(peremptory norm) of international law that forbids the expulsion of a refugee into an area where the person might be again subjected to persecution.
The principle of "refoulement" was officially enshrined in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is an international convention that defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum. The Convention also sets out which people do not...
and is also contained in the 1967 Protocol and Art 3 of the 1984 Torture Convention.
The principle of non-refoulement arises out of an international collective memory of the failure of nations during World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...
to provide a safe haven to refugees fleeing certain genocide at the hands of the Nazi regime. Today, the principle of non-refoulement ostensibly protects recognized refugees and asylum seekers from being expelled from countries that are signatories to the 1951 Convention or 1967 Protocol. This has however not prevented certain signatory countries from skirting the international law principle and repatriating or expelling bona fide
refugees into the hands of potential persecutors.
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...
's actions during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda
The Rwandan Genocide was the 1994 mass murder of an estimated 800,000 people in the small East African nation of Rwanda. Over the course of approximately 100 days through mid-July, over 500,000 people were killed, according to a Human Rights Watch estimate...
have been alleged to have violated the nonrefoulement principle. During the height of the crisis when the refugee flows rose to the level of a "mass exodus," the Tanzanian government closed its borders to a group of more than 50,000 Rwandan refugees who were fleeing genocidal violence. In 1996, before Rwanda
Rwanda or , officially the Republic of Rwanda , is a country in central and eastern Africa with a population of approximately 11.4 million . Rwanda is located a few degrees south of the Equator, and is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo...
had reached an appropriate level of stability, around 500,000 refugees were returned to Rwanda from Zaire
The Republic of Zaire was the name of the present Democratic Republic of the Congo between 27 October 1971 and 17 May 1997. The name of Zaire derives from the , itself an adaptation of the Kongo word nzere or nzadi, or "the river that swallows all rivers".-Self-proclaimed Father of the Nation:In...
One of the grey areas of law most hotly debated within signatory circles is the interpretation of Article 33. Interdiction of potential refugee transporting vessels on the high seas has been a common practice by the U.S. government in particular, raising the question of whether Article 33 requires a refugee to be within a country or simply within the power of a country to trigger the right against refoulement
Since 1951, 140 states have signed the Convention, officially recognizing the binding principle of non-refoulement expressed therein.
An example of the non-refoulement principle can be found in the 2007 issue of Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...
jailing 320 refugees from the Darfur conflict
The Darfur Conflict was a guerrilla conflict or civil war centered on the Darfur region of Sudan. It began in February 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and Justice and Equality Movement groups in Darfur took up arms, accusing the Sudanese government of oppressing non-Arab Sudanese in...
in Western Sudan
Sudan , officially the Republic of the Sudan , is a country in North Africa, sometimes considered part of the Middle East politically. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the...
. Due to laws erected for the protection of Israel from the anti-Semitic atmosphere in the region, refugees fleeing to Israel in avoidance of the Darfur conflict were jailed in the interest of national security. After some 200 were determined not to be a threat, usual repatriation
Repatriation is the process of returning a person back to one's place of origin or citizenship. This includes the process of returning refugees or soldiers to their place of origin following a war...
guidelines could not be followed in part due to non-refoulement principles. Many of them were released to Israeli collective work communities called kibbutzim
to work until the conflict subsides enough for their return.
- Kees Wouters International legal standards for the protection from refoulement - a legal analysis of the prohibitions on refoulement contained in the Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture, Antwerpen: Intersentia, 2009
- Guy S. Goodwin-Gill & Jane McAdam The refugee in international law, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007 (prev. 1983, 1996)
- Académie de Droit International de La Haye / Hague Academy of International Law Le droit d'asile = The right of asylum, Dordrecht: Nijhoff (1990)